Potential-Based Hiring Is the Key to Building High-Performing, Resilient Teams

George Randle, Author of The Talent Wars: Recruiting Lessons from U.S. Special Ops

Feb 24, 2021 - Joe Matar

Whether your company is in growth mode, restructuring or contending with normal turnover, the fight for top talent never ends.

That’s why HR leaders know the high value of holistic-thinking recruiters.

When strong talent acquisition gets a seat at the table with strategic business leaders, you have the opportunity to grow teams filled with A-list talent. That also means an organization that undervalues TA is bound to miss out on top talent and team-building opportunities.

“You can't outrun the cost of a bad hire,” says George Randle, the Global Head of Talent Acquisition at the cybersecurity firm Forcepoint, and bestselling author of “The Talent War.”

George joined an episode of Brazen’s Talent on the Rise podcast to share advice from the book on what we can learn about recruiting from military special operations and what he calls “potential-based hiring.”

Check out the full episode on your favorite podcast app:

George is a veteran, coach, mentor and talent acquisition leader known for building high-performing teams. He’s been the head of TA for three organizations and has more than 20 years of executive HR and TA experience with Fortune 100 and Fortune 1000 companies.

He considers his time in the U.S. Army “the world’s greatest leadership incubator.”

Here are some of the key lessons from “The Talent War” on how to hire well and build high-performing teams.

Potential-based hiring is the key to resilient teams

George fell in love with the power of building teams when he landed in HR by accident, and he went on to head up TA at three organizations. But he never forgot the lessons he learned about leadership and hiring from the military.

“What's interesting about all of the special operations organizations is that, by nature, they absolutely had to become experts on potential based hiring,” he says, “because nobody comes to the table with special operations experience.”

That’s why he and his co-author, U.S. Navy SEAL officer Mike Sarraille, looked to special operations for insight for a book about hiring.

“The battle for talent never ends, and you've gotta be willing to get in it,” George says. “You've got to be willing to compete and constantly evolve your standard over and over and over.”

What the special operations organizations consistently get right is potential-based hiring — hiring for character attributes rather than years of experience or a list of objective requirements.

Recruiting for experience doesn’t necessarily beget success

Recruiters often default to looking at a candidate’s years of experience in a similar role or with a competitor, assuming that will translate to better performance in their next role.

However, George says, “Experience isn't necessarily predictive of future success.”

Look more closely at a candidate’s experience to find the underlying character attributes. What was so successful about those years in the field? Were they riding the tails of a growing company or benefitting from an obvious market need? Or did they actually contribute to moving the needle in a previous position?

The key to digging deeper and getting a sense for character attributes? Ask them how.

“The how you do things tells you everything about people, if you just ask,” George says.

How did they accomplish what they accomplished? Or, if they failed, what did they learn from it? That’s the conversation that will help you understand whether they can contribute to and weather challenges at your organization.

In those moments of stress or change, hard skills degrade or lose value. Character remains, and that’s what will keep people moving forward.

George acknowledges the practical need for some experience, of course, but says we far overemphasize it in hiring. His recommendation is to confirm a candidate has the minimum experience or hard skills you need. Then, go deeper to assess those character attributes.

Treat human capital with as much care as your financial capital

Too often, businesses hire as a knee-jerk reaction to budget, attrition or growth.

When TA leaders fail to push back on those hiring objectives with thoughtful questions to determine whether this is the best business solution, you fall back on lazy hiring for things like years of experience.

Instead, George recommends business leaders treat human capital “with the same discipline, rigor and focus as you do your financial capital.”

As business leaders and managers plan for next quarter or next year, flip the script, and start with talent to build a strategic hiring plan that’s aligned with business goals.

  1. Look for the holes. What are you missing? Where are your single points of failure? What are your leadership needs? Which roles have a high flight risk?
  2. Prioritize those roles. Make your case to focus on hiring those roles in the next quarter or year.
  3. Define success in each role. Create a success profile for each team and role that includes the character attributes in addition to the hard skills and experience required.
  4. Go after it. As a TA leader, use that profile to hire for potential, and fill the roles.

It can be a struggle to get other business leaders on board with a talent mindset. We all know many businesses devalue HR and talent acquisition in particular. To influence leaders toward this mindset, you have to know how to tell the story of your importance and impact on the company.

It’s not as challenging as it may sound.

Just remind your colleagues, as George points out, “Talent acquisition is the gateway to every revenue-, product- and service-producing function in your company.”

👉 Check out George Randle’s new book, “The Talent War: How Special Operations & Great Organizations Win on Talent.”

This article is based on an episode of Talent on the Rise, Brazen’s podcast about transformative leaders and how they got a seat at the table. Subscribe in your preferred podcast app.

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