You can hire for fit AND diversity: How the most innovative companies hire

“At Google, we front- load our people investment. This means the majority of our time and money spent on people is invested in attracting, assessing and cultivating new hires.”  – Work Rules!

Let’s face it, hiring is where your organization starts. It’s where HR starts its job and quickly proves or disproves its value, and it is where, as I saw through digging through lots and lots of research and writings by those who are winning in business, where you need to be focused on intently if you are going to be able to have an innovative workplace.

But we’ve all made a bad hire and we know it.  Sometimes we feel like we are playing Russian roulette when we hire, despite our best efforts, never knowing if we are picking up an A player or a bench warmer at best.

If you want to innovate in the workplace and you want to win at being a best place to work, you need to start by being the best at whom you let in the door.

Here’s how to do it:


  • Clearly define your culture.  I recommend you do this through values.
  • Clearly define what makes your A players- A players across the organization and in particular roles.  For example, A players’ characteristics across the organization are probably going to be directly linked to the values you’ve defined.  They may even be competency based.  Characteristics that define A players for particular roles may be more specific to the knowledge, experiences and/or skills they have that lead to success. These could be different from position to position.

2. DESIGN and MEASURE your hiring process against the standard you’ve created in the first step. 

Many often tie this standard to FIT. As Laszlo Bock, Author of Work Rules! says “Superb hiring isn’t just about recruiting the biggest name, top salesperson, or cleverest engineer.  It’s about finding the very best people WHO WILL BE SUCCESSFUL WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF YOUR ORGANIZATION, who will make everyone around them more successful.”  (emphasis added).  Google calls it “Googleyness” and with that, I’m not sure I’d be a fit there.  Would you?

3. Look at the research to understand what selection methods predict work performance and employ them in your hiring process. Check out this gem of 85 years of combined research on the topic here.

In case you need the quick cliff notes version, it found that work sample tests (29%)- which also could be called realistic job previes- are the best predictor of job performance followed by cognitive ability (26%) and structure interviews (26%).  Employing these, except in the case of cognitive ability, only works if you’ve been able to do step 1 by defining what these methods should measure.  However, a combination of these methods, or a multiple hurdles approach, is better than any single method.  So stack them up in your process.

4. GO find the best.

Actively go and find the best talent; don’t post and pray.  This starts with building your social capital.  If you need help doing this, check out these posts:

5. TRAIN people on how to interview for Pete’s sake. And its no one’s fault that they don’t know how to do it, this isn’t a born trait. Interviewing is a learned skill that gets better with research grounded guidance and practice. Provide tools, like structured interview formats and the scoring mechanism that goes along with them, but train people on how to use them.  Use case studies, examples, and data to back up your points so that hiring managers want to use the tools you are giving them instead of feeling like it is one more hassle to fool with.

6. Use DATA.  Track your hiring against performance and see what trends arise.  Do you need to change your process? More clearly define your standards?  Train a certain department or group on better hiring practices?  Constantly improve what you are doing by seeing what your outcomes are and how you can let that inform your inputs.   And as you will see below, this data should also include benchmarking for diversity goals through hiring.

What about diversity?

But “whoa, whoa, wait a minute,” you say. This all sounds all well and good, but I thought the title of this post said to hire for fit AND diversity.  You’ve read (and if you read the gem of a meta analysis linked above, you caught on to this) that some of things I am advocating for, like cognitive ability tests often discriminate against anyone that isn’t white and male.  And there’s a lot of information out there about how hiring for fit limits diversity.  Even Harvard Business Review said such, and who argues with them? Ouch.

But I believe where there is a will, there is a way, and you can hire for fit and diversity. And you need to because the combination of the two leads to innovation.  You don’t get it without them both.

Here’s some ideas on how to make sure your intentional about hiring for diversity:

  1. Create collaborative hiring teams. Teams that are made up of different people along different traditional diversity lines (age, gender, race, etc.) but also along departments, tenure with the company etc.  No one person should be able to make a hiring decision alone.
  2. Just like you need to train people on how to interview, you need to talk and train openly on unconscious bias. What it is, how to spot it, and how to avoid it.  You also need to teach and train on the value of diversity and how the topic can be much deeper than how society plays it.  Some things to look at to help you do this are:

These lists may seem overwhelming, but you may be able to check off some of the things you are already doing.  Once you’ve done that, start with one thing at a time and work from there.  It’s worth it.   Innovate or die.

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Mary Ila Ward

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