Hiring: 1-Up Your Gut

Brad Feld wrote an interesting post for VentueBeat yesterday about a hiring method he's found useful in understanding the true nature of a candidate. He calls it the Crowd Navigation Method. In essence, you take a candidate on a walk through a crowded area and see how they navigate the crowd. Their demeanor can give you insight into how they'll approach their role at your organization.

These kind of behavioral indicators are fascinating and certainly worth noting when spending time with a candidate, but I'd like to discuss some of the finer points Brad glossed over.

First, behavioral indicators aren't mysterious. In fact, scientists have been researching them for decades and we know a great deal about how and when to effectively measure candidates. One thing we've learned is that the context of a given experience is crucially important when assessing behavioral factors. For example, an individual who darts through the crowd might be shy when introduced to new business connections (or order the "safe" dish at a new restaurant); the two behaviors don't correlate because the individual perceives the two contexts differently. It could be that the context people experience when navigating crowds is similar to the workplace, but that doesn't resonate with my experience.

So, while hiring with your gut is tremendously important (I would never encourage anyone, least of all the founder of a startup to hire someone against their gut), I would recommend that you use your gut to validate what the rest of your hiring process tells you. If you don't have a hiring process sketched out, invest some time in building one suited to your organization or borrow one from the pros. True, candidates can game your questions, but books like Brad Smart's "Topgrading" and Shelle Charvet's "Words that Change Minds" give you tools that will help you determine what your candidates real capabilities are and how well they'll fit with your organization.

If I haven't convinced you you need a hiring process sketched out, on paper, consider the following: A bad hire will cost you more in missed opportunities than it will in salary, productivity and severance (when it comes to it) all combined, so you should invest the time in hiring right. The total cost of mis-hiring a mid-level $100k/year manager is more than $1M, so think of this time and effort as an investment that will repay itself in spades.

Behavioral science doesn't have all the answers, but neither does your gut; most managers don't hire A candidates (the top 10% of the pool for the price) even 20% of the time. I'm not saying you should employ the entire Topgrading interview, but I do think you can 1-up your gut.