November 1, 2023

The Disconnect Between Hiring and Retention

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Hiring leaders want the best. People with strong skills who fit very specific skill needs. No one ever says they’ll hire someone who is “pretty good at a bunch of stuff.”

Yet come layoff time, that’s who they prioritize retaining. Those who can take on the most workload. The old “do more with less.”

High for specialization. Retain for breadth. 

Why is that? And can layoff decision-making teach us how we should change our hiring process? Jeff Smith and James Hornick discuss in the next The 10 Minute Talent Rant, Episode 76 “The Disconnect Between Hiring and Retention”

Episode Transcript

The 10 Minute Talent Rant is live. I’m James Hornick joined by Jeff Smith and we are on the clock. The 10 Minute Talent Rant is our ongoing series where we break down things that are broken in the talent acquisition and hiring space, maybe even pitch a solution or two. Before we dig in, all of our content can be found at talentinsights.hirewell.com.

This week’s topic, episode 76, the Disconnect Between Hiring and Retention. I tried, if anybody remembers from the last episode, I had like this effusive smile and James notated it, he was like, every time I start this, so I tried to be a little bit more chill today. Oh, I don’t know, it kind of brought me down though, you know, it’s usually you’re giving me energy as I’m reading these things off anyway.

Okay, fair enough. We’ll see if this actually goes 10 minutes, I don’t know. We had this idea, and I think it’s a-

I really love this topic. But as we started doing it, we’re like, this is really straightforward, you know, there’s not,

So… But we could also go off on a tangent here. We’ll see. But we’ve realized that what used to start as a 10 minute hard cap soon became 11, 12, 13, 14 minutes.

So, we might go under this time. We will see. Watch it’ll probably be like 12 by the time. It’ll still go over. Hot take- we’ll kind of start here. Most important skill for any employee, hint: bar none, is the ability to navigate an unstructured or undefined environment. But that skill does not get you hired anywhere.

When people say they want entrepreneurialism, this is what they’re talking about. Yes. A couple times a year, I’ll talk about range. There’s a book, I’ll talk about the concept of range, but there’s also a book called Range by David Epstein. Highly recommend you reading it. The TLDR on that is people who have broader life experiences have more things to pull from when they’re trying to solve brand new problems, more so than specialists do.

You have more. You’ve done more things in your life. You’re going against like-

specialists are, you’re just not as equipped to deal because they have more limited experience than generalists do. Any company that’s doing anything remotely interesting is going to have new challenges.

And it’s with those challenges is where generalists will outperform specialists. No doubt. So we see it in retention too. Like if you start to talk about that paradigm, right? Neither of us wanted to make light of, nor anybody at Hirewell wants to make light of the folks who have been laid off. Like it’s been a bloodbath for the last year.

But when companies look to make cuts, they look at aggregate what needs to get done. Who in that group of people, employees, can do those things. And then, who of those group of people can do most of those things cross functionally. So generalists, weirdly, end up getting viewed as more indispensable when these cuts are being made and specialists kind of get left behind.

Right? We’re going to kind of go into why that happens. Some folks are going to be vital. Like, if you are, you know, preparing for an IPO, like, you need your tax account. I get that. Right? There’s going to be those people. But as a matter of safety, utility tools or in the sales realm, revenue generators, are always going to make it farthest down the path of the cost cutting road.

Yeah. When shit goes sideways, that exact perfect hire is often scapegoated as a sacrificial lamb because they can’t do five jobs at once. That’s why they weren’t hired for that. It’s a real problem. You might have heard, like, after, like, can’t think strategically, or we need someone who can do more, or couldn’t wear as many hats.

Like, we’ve all heard these things before, even though the people who maybe have been let go were great. Exactly. Companies don’t hire this way, though. Yeah. This is the paradigm. Yes. Everyone out there is familiar with check the box hiring I would, say yes. Yeah. Oh, you have five years experience, great. Box checked. A colleague of ours recently made a post that I love and hate at the same time. I love this guy dearly. Great guy in the space.

It wasn’t-

I didn’t hate it because of the fact that it wasn’t a logical response. It gave me a visceral reaction of something that I didn’t agree with. But then I was like, Oh, my gosh, this totally makes sense. This is why he’s saying this. If a company is insistent that a person’s background has to be exact for the project or the role that they’re trying to fill. It’s only logical to start with all the things that make them not a fit, right? And so the entire question base around the recruiting process gets put into that narrative. Like, how do we get this person out of the process? Which should save a lot of time, right?

But it’s completely insane. It’s everything that’s wrong with hiring. So here’s the thing, it’s insane. And they aren’t completely wrong with how they thought about this, but what they’re doing is in effect exactly why everything in this process, in the entire recruiting function is so fucked up. Hiring managers don’t know what they want.

So they try to thread the needle like super, super thin, which results in good folks like my buddy and our colleague having takes like this. And so, our question is why focus on trimming the fat, when we should be focusing on widening the pool? Like all of this literally makes zero sense. Yeah. Now, meanwhile, you got workers, not job seekers, but actual workers when they’re doing the job, they’re thrust in this weird paradigm where going broad will make them better able to last and contribute and get the job done at their current company like they should be doing, but it also makes it harder for them to get hired for the next one.

Yeah. Because acquiring more and more skills, it’s obviously a good thing. It’s obviously only going to benefit you. And of course it makes you more valuable to the company. But from the traditional hiring mindset, and I think everyone’s seen this before, people innately know that the more things they do, they appear more unfocused on their resume or when they’re talking to people, when they’re having that next job interview, because they weren’t laser focused on one thing.

This is-

off the cuff moment. I literally had a call with a gentleman who had an interview, a colleague of mine from a previous role. into a discussion about, you know, his global experience. Global experience, right? He’s worked in Europe. He’s worked in Asia. Then the next question in the interview was, well, have you worked in Germany? And he was like, well, I haven’t. Done. Like, why?

Worked in three continents, but not the one market you’re- yeah. But it’s like such a granular thing to harness into. Anyway. Look, the bottom line, we need to remember this. Roughly, there are three buckets of folks that become expendable when shit gets hard. So what are those? So, low performers.

Duh. If you’re in sales and you’re on the bottom, you’re not getting your number, whatever. It’s just life. Everyone’s probably been a low performer. That’s on you. It happens. You know. Second would be, if you’re unlucky enough to be in a situation where your project or your division or whatever to company was cut.

You know, the company might’ve had some financial issues. They had to make some tough calls. Maybe they just canceled a project entirely. You might’ve been great. You might’ve been broad, like we’re talking about, but you’re in the wrong place. But the third is really what we’re kind of saying here, is the people who don’t fit the do more with less persona.

The people who, you know, when you need to cut a certain department down by two people, the people who weren’t able to kind of take over someone else’s workload, or at least do some of those aspects of projects. Or didn’t have the knowledge base to at least contribute on it. And that’s really kind of what we’re hitting on here.

So, also not inferring that you should be expected to do more, do someone’s- like do double work, but having the knowledge base to be able to like pick up maybe that one area that someone else had, but they couldn’t do this. Vice versa, the other way around. This is exactly why the gig economy is blowing up right now, by the way.

Specific to number two, lots of folks got hired because of that, like threading the needle, that super specific project expertise. And then liquid got a little thin the last year. And everyone was like, screw that we’re not going to do those projects anymore. And guess what happened? Lots of collateral damage.

So. All right, takeaways. It looks like we will go 10 minutes here. All right. Yeah. Continue. We’ve really bloviated here. Look, if you want to build an organization, that’s with high EQ, multifaceted people who are capable of doing a lot, ie, entrepreneurialism, right? You have to get past this checkbox mentality.

First, stress test creativity in your recruiting process. Don’t ask yes, no questions. Ask open ended questions about that breadth of experience and value it. Seems simple, but it is. It’s a key takeaway for this. And then secondly, and I think more importantly when it comes to retention, like, once hired, open the door a little bit for some cross pollination. Some visibility into cross functional work so you can actually see real time what your employees might be good at, that you didn’t actually hire them for.

So when it gets hard next time, you know what those skill sets are and you can, you know, bucket them in appropriately. Yeah. Next one. If your reaction to a candidate is, you know, they have four years experience, but we need six. Got bad news for you. Terrible. Long term, this is a retention killer.

Taking every single line of a job description is gospel and pushing out candidates for like mundane things. It’s just a long term talent killer. You’re not getting the best talent when that’s what you’re focused on. That’s right. The focus will always need to be on aptitude, intelligence, humility, and all of these human things.

And I can tell you one way to, not, uncover that stuff is to ask a bunch of gotcha questions. Well said. We are short on clock, strangely enough. I didn’t think we would be. Thanks for tuning in to 10 Minute Talent Rant, part of the Talent Insights series, which is always available for replay on talentinsights.hirewell.com, as well as YouTube, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon. Jeff, thanks again, as always. Everyone out there, see you soon.

Episode 89
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