Bob Corlett returns to the HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board. Bob has worked in staffing and consulting for over 25 years. He is the founder and President of Staffing Advisors, a retained search firm near Washington DC. He developed The Results-Based Hiring Process® and is one of Washington’s best known thought leaders on staffing and recruiting. Full Bio…
The Rise of the Misfit Toys
by Bob Corlett
Many successful executives have an embarrassing problem that’s becoming more painful by the day. Their hiring instincts are failing. And HR is fiddling while Rome burns.
Titans of industry often built their careers by sacrificing their individual wishes to effectively work within the system. They hire people willing to make the same trades and sacrifices they have. They like people who play well with others—who know when to push and when to back off. They call this “hiring people with political acumen.” And when times are good, the corporate diplomat is king.
But when the world economic order is being radically reshaped, many organizations need to hire a revolutionary, not a politician. When your business is under siege, the corporate diplomat is an effete dilettante. When the chips are down, the Misfit Toy is king.
Hiring a revolutionary is profoundly uncomfortable, because misfits, well, don’t fit in. Most hiring functions are exquisitely calibrated to meet the hiring preferences of corporate overlords diplomats. The selection process reflexively looks for a progression on a straight-line career path, steadily upwards–no mistakes, no diversions, no jagged edges– just continuous success on the established path.
For the candidate, the best way to build that kind of resume is to “play ball” and avoid big risks. Don’t do anything outlandish, don’t make enemies, stay within the norms. Should a Principal take on troubled school? No that could take years and derail your safe ascension toward Superintendant of Schools. Should a manager give up a six figure salary to try their hand at a start-up? No, it might fail. Should you fiercely advocate for the user experience in that next software release? No way, dude. Keep quiet. Your time will come.
Misfit Toys aren’t wired that way. Some may have an obsession with creating an insanely great user experience. Some Principals unrealistically believe that every kid can go to college. Some people cannot accept that their entire industry would create and sell something toxic or useless to their customers. Some people just … don’t fit in.
So how do companies find and hire a revolutionary to drive some high-stakes business result? How do you find and hire people for jobs that didn’t exist yesterday? How do you find and hire people for jobs you don’t quite understand … where the conventional wisdom is failing and the entire field is rapidly evolving?
Look for people who are obsessed with achieving the results you want.
- People who are more interested in achieving the goal than in maintaining appearances.
- People who can fail quickly and without drama, learn from it, recover, and come back smarter.
- People who are relentless–like a dog with a bone, they simply will not let it go. Knock them down 10 times, they get up 11.
I’m not talking about the egotistical jerk who has to win every argument– quite the opposite. Look for someone who can make a spirited argument, but is comfortable conceding a point, especially when she gets to learn something in the process. Find the person who is curious enough to look at things from a new perspective. Find the one who can eagerly learn from anyone, even if it means he might be wrong. You see, when you are a knight on a quest (or a Misfit Toy), your comfort and your ego is subservient to the goal.
If you want to deprogram from hiring dilettantes, start reading everything you can about failure, grit and resilience.