Nov 07 0 Responses

The Art of Hiring Rock Stars

“If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.” – David Ogilvy, Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather and widely considered “The Father of Advertising”

The world has fundamentally changed.
And that is why there are so few outstanding managers. It’s not their fault. We are equipping them to manage a world that no longer exists. Companies have been slow to understand this change and even slower to adapt their training. This is why small startups out-recruit Fortune 500 companies on a daily basis.

By 1999 this should have been clear to us. Napster was destroying the music industry, AOL CDs filled every mailbox, and an entirely new economy, soon to be ruled by Apple, Google, Facebook, and their peers, was emerging. The previous 5,000 years of accepted wisdom were undone in less than five. It wasn’t a jock’s world anymore. Geeks were setting the direction of industry.

This realization is what led me to understand everything I had ever learned about managing people was wrong. The idea of someone working for the same company for an entire career all of a sudden seemed like a quaint throwback to the days of milkmen and black and white televisions. I had to understand how to build an environment focused on attracting and keeping talented employees. Those lessons learned and time spent understanding how to manage smart people in this new world became the basis for this book.

And it all starts with hiring.

Hiring is Viral
There is nothing more vital to your organization’s success than hiring the right people. Every hire changes the culture of your team. It’s a viral exercise. Positive people are contagious, and negativity spreads faster than the latest internet meme.

All it takes is one person to infect your team and ruin your culture. The best way to avoid the disruption of bad hires is not hiring them in the first place. Spending a few more minutes on a few more interviews to find the right person is significantly better than spending countless hours micromanaging a bad one. So what if your position is open for longer than you anticipated? It’s worth it if that means finding the right fit and attitude for your team.

It’s All About Attitude
You can give someone experience, but you can’t give them a work ethic, a great attitude, or a desire to learn. You’re looking for talent, not skill sets. Skill sets are a gauge of a person at a particular moment in time. Having a great attitude and the desire to learn is far more valuable.

It’s surprising to find out nearly half of all hires fail within their first 18 months on the job, but much more interesting than the failure rate is why these employees fail. Nine out of ten failures are due to bad attitudes [1]. When you hire someone, you are putting the future of your company in their hands. Their attitude and how they interact with your team is directly linked to your organization’s success.

A Company of Giants
If you’re putting your company in the hands of your people, you need rock stars. Determining the number of average employees it takes to equal one great employee is a bit like figuring out how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie® pop. Everyone has a slightly different answer, but most studies say somewhere between 5 and 28 average employees equal one great employee [2]. From my experience, I’d put that number somewhere around infinity. There simply isn’t a way to replace a rock star employee with a set number of “B” players. You cannot replace talent with numbers.

In today’s economy, innovation has a higher economic impact than productivity. Average employees don’t envision or create breakthrough, game-changing solutions. Focusing on recruiting and retraining these high-end performers may seem unusual, but it’s something that’s done all the time in industries where the only things that matter are winning and money: sports and entertainment.

It’s common knowledge that adding a single superstar player to a team increases its odds of winning a championship, and adding the right A-lister to a movie is often the difference between box office success and failure. These great players make everyone around them more efficient and effective. They produce higher quality work and allow you to recruit people you would not have access to otherwise.

Talent Recognizes Talent
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle put it this way, “Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.” The illustrious JT The Bigga Figga simply said, “Game recognize game.”

Smart people want to work around other smart people. Rock star employees improve your brand among potential hires, and increase your ability to attract top talent. Every hiring choice you make is exaggerated by every new layer of employees you bring on as your organization grows.

Success comes from finding, recruiting, hiring, and retaining the best talent. Taking time to find the right fit, the right attitude, and the right talent makes as much of a difference to your organization as it does to any professional sports team or Hollywood movie, and it’s every bit as important.


1 Murphy, Mark. “HIRING FOR ATTITUDE: research and tools to skyrocket your success rate.” Leadership IQ White Paper 2012: 1.

Sackman, Erikson, Grant 1968 Exploratory Experimental Studies Comparing Online and Offline Programming Performance
Brooks, Fred 1975 The Mythical Man Month
Boehm, Barry W. 1981 Software Engineering Economics
Glass, Robert L 2002 Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering
McBreen, Pete 2002 Software Craftsmanship


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