The Right Fit

We have talked about all that we can do to build engagement after we hire talent. But, how can we do a better job of hiring already-engaged talent? Our candidates come from a market that is primarily fed two obtuse messages. They go something like the following:

  • During economically good times, when there is more competition for great talent, we will treat candidates and employees better.
  • During economically bad times, when talent is plentiful, we will treat candidates and employees like they are expendable.

When we examine much of the turmoil in our culture today, a great deal of it is centered around people feeling like they have been marginalized and certainly this is a reflection of some of our worst moments of organizational behavior. In the midst of this landscape, how many of us have sacrificed our standards to get or keep a job—any job? Let’s couple that scenario with all of the hiring managers who have never been trained on how to interview, select, and onboard highly effective talent. It helps to also recognize that candidates have been fed such negative messages during the last few years that it doesn’t take much to trigger bad feelings. Unfortunately, when we leave candidates feeling fear of survival in the hands of managers with inadequate hiring skills, all bets for the right fit vanish quickly.

Years ago, I asked a friend who was still in love with her husband after 40 years, “What is the single most important thing for me to know about having a wonderful relationship?” She looked me in the eyes, grabbed my hand, and ordered me simply, “Marry well.” Who we pick as our spouse represents one of the most important factors of whether or not we are going to be happy. In a similar fashion, whether or not we are going to be happy with our work depends on two critical factors:

  1. The right fit.
  2. Who will be my boss?

In the end, I believe that most anyone who wants a job and anyone who is looking to hire a new employee are looking for a good “marriage.” We want the partnership to be effective and also pleasurable. We want to grow from the experience. We want to look forward to working together. We want to be eventually grateful for the good decision we both made to enter the partnership.

A good boss can take what reads on paper as a mediocre job and spin that into a transformative career opportunity. On the other hand, a terrible boss can ruin the best job opportunity in the world. Time and time again, I have witnessed how one bad employee can poison engagement and team productivity. However, that “bad” employee will often turn into a star when moved to an appropriate environment. Fit matters.

Right fit is an extremely critical aspect of engagement and overall productivity. So why does it get mucked up so routinely? Well, it usually begins with a CEO or business owner who doesn’t lead the culture. Why would an Engagement CEO stand idly by while hiring managers make anything less-than-right-fit hires? Why would someone allow candidates throughout the market to be treated with bad or sloppy manners? An Engagement CEO builds a culture that becomes a privilege to join and the invitation to join that culture’s tribe must be earned and celebrated. When this is done really well, everyone will be grateful and likely thrives in the environment.

Employers spend approximately $3,500 every time someone is hired, a figure incidentally that represents three times the amount typically spent annually on training and development. Little, if any, of these training funds are ever allocated toward creating better hiring managers. Developing managers who are savvy with interviews, who recognize their bias, and who are better able to make sound talent acquisition decisions, represents some of the greatest potential improvements we can bring to our organizations. It also supports fully engaged cultures.

Instead, hiring managers continue to sacrifice right fit to bias. Many of them define needed technical skills but fail to define necessary soft skills or “courage” skills and capacities such as personality types, morals, values and work ethic. Many never really think about the importance of manners, presentation, demeanor, demonstrated ability to change, resiliency, enthusiasm for innovation, thoughtfulness, and persistence.

Therefore, they are making choices based on incomplete information. Still other hiring managers rely on even more seat-of-the-pants style thinking, such as, “I’ll know it when I see it.” When I ran staffing operations in past roles, consultants would come to me upset and with the conviction that they had the right candidate for one of our positions but, alas, another candidate was offered the job. I would typically just laugh and say, “They hired a family member.” At other times I might say, “When he called to tell me they  hired the least likely best candidate, maybe the last one added to hit the quota, he just said, ‘There was something about her’ or some such nonsense.”

Without thinking, they were picking a family member. How many of us came from healthy, fully functional, loving, and smart families? How many of us come from families that role modeled what it means to have a great career? Though there are quite a few, they are not the norm. We typically go with how we were raised. We do what our tribe did. I was a little kid when Lady Bird Johnson was promoting a program to clean up and beautify America. Our rather mean schoolteacher was standing in front of our classroom screeching, “When you see trash by the side of road what do you think of?” A kid in the back of the room said, “Home.” We tend to go with home. We go with what makes us comfortable

Employee engagement begins with how well we attract, select, and hire talent. Organizations routinely spend fortunes filling jobs, but they don’t think to invest in training their hiring managers to give masterful interviews, to make more skilled decisions, and to provide highly effective onboarding. Many hire employees based on characteristics that have nothing to do with the job at hand. This lack of thinking continues, and the reason it goes on is that top leadership is divorced from upholding their standards as employers.

Timothy Wilson, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, states, “You’re faced with around 11 million pieces of information at any given moment. The brain can only process about 40 of those bits of information and so it creates shortcuts and uses past knowledge to make assumptions.”1

Harvard University researcher Mahzarin Banaji distills the point:

Most of us believe that we are ethical and unbiased. We imagine we’re good decision makers, able to objectively size up a candidate or a venture deal and reach a fair and rational conclusion that’s in our, and our organization’s, best interests. But more than two decades of research confirms that, in reality, most of us fall woefully short of our inflated self-perception.2

When a hiring manager interviews, assesses, and eventually hires new talent without any formal skill training, we must work doubly hard to build engagement in our organizations, and we unknowingly whittle down our most optimal futures. One of the central new revolutions in talent acquisition is big data and artificial intelligence. We are reaching the stage in which technology will be able to predict the candidate that is going to be the most successful in a job. The emerging technology introduces the possibility of cutting through bias and filters so that we can more effectively find the candidate most likely to succeed. Can big data become the solution for prejudice and diversity? Well, one thing is clear: it will not happen until we produce greater awareness in our managers.

Train your managers! Give them the tools to make better decisions. For relatively modest up-front costs, you will save fortunes in mismatched talent, turnover, and other engagement challenges. Give your managers the resources to evaluate candidates before the interview. Assessment instruments can give them important insights and reveal nuances about candidates. Even the smallest employer can purchase an assessment from Amazon or other providers. Also bring other managers or colleagues into the interviewing process as appropriate. Several points of view can be quite helpful in making gains and avoiding mistakes in building the bench strength of your organization.

Skills for Tomorrow

In the modern change-driven workplace, there are several new skills we ought to be looking for in all candidates. First, find people who have a strong ability to grow relationships and a track record of active learning. Look for those able to sell their ideas and concepts to others. They will demonstrate a natural curiosity about other people’s needs and expectations. They are enthusiastic networkers and connectors.

They see the big picture and can make a good case for people to work together. They keep track of where the world is headed. To them, active, continuous learning represents the keys to the future. They are constantly searching for new information that is relevant to their lives and their work. They take responsibility for their actions and never blame others. Their word is golden. They don’t engage in negative gossip.

They know how to make friends. They build support systems naturally. Many have strong sales and presentation skills. They are receptive to feedback. They praise others generously and accept praise graciously. These are often the very workers that will teach and inspire other employees to change. Many will become great mentors who will sustain, strengthen, and grow your culture. The last war for talent was at its peak between 2004 and 2007. As we go back to war, the game has changed so thoroughly that we need to revolutionize virtually every aspect of finding and onboarding talent.

Ten years ago, our definition of right fit was very different than it is today. We fixated on such fading things as loyalty and long-term commitment. Today, we need a more sophisticated and far more candid treatment of right fit in any setting. It starts by acknowledging that things will be quite different from our past best practices.

Reprinted, with permission of the publisher, from THE WORKPLACE ENGAGEMENT SOLUTION © 2017 David Harder.  Published by Career Press, Wayne, NJ.  All rights reserved

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David Harder
David Harderhttp://www.inspiredworkservices.com
DAVID founded Inspired Work in 1990, which has helped over 42,000 professionals transform their relationship towards work. Individuals from all walks of life attend Inspired Work’s public programs to launch new careers, new business or to become more successful in their existing role. He views work as a profound opportunity to become more fulfilled, contributive and effective. Mr. Harder’s leadership, employee engagement, executive development and social networking programs are used in a wide variety of organizations including The Walt Disney Company, HBO, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Loyola Marymount University, University of Southern California, The United Church of Religious Science, Morgan Stanley, and many others. Inspired Work’s leadership programs, career development and team building programs produce some of the worlds most outstanding satisfaction numbers in any business: 92.6% out of a hundred. David has appeared on many business and human-interest programs including CNN, KTLA News, KFWB News and Business News Network. David’s book, new book, The Workplace Engagement Solution (Career Press) offers an entire “crack-the-code” approach to engagement.


  1. When looking at how your clients hire their talent — you will see some really odd things. First there are three kinds of talent.

    1. Cog in the system. These are employees that plug into the work structure of the organization. It’s assumed they can be easily acquired and replaced.

    2. Designer of the system. These are employees that are leaders that align and reshape the work structure and at times the organizational structure to improve productivity, efficiency, and revenue optimization.

    3. Personification of the system. These are employees at the CxO, VP, and director levels that drive business management and corporate profitability through policy, strategy, and culture.

    During the hiring process, these differences in the kinds of talent are not taken into consideration. Interviews are done in a very similar fashion relying a lot on the “cog in the system” assumptions. And that just ain’t right.