Podcast: Attract Rockstar Employees—or Develop Your Own
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Careers Organizations Leadership Mar 7, 2018

Pod­cast: Attract Rock­star Employ­ees — or Devel­op Your Own

Find­ing and nur­tur­ing high per­form­ers isn’t easy, but it pays off.

Rockstars await a job interview.

Lisa Röper

Based on insights from

Bernard Banks

Jeff Hyman

Listening: Attract Rockstar Employees—or Develop Your Own

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Build­ing a new busi­ness comes with a lot of uncer­tain­ty, but there’s one thing com­pa­nies can do to make the odds of sur­vival as favor­able as possible.

In this pod­cast, we talk with lec­tur­er Jeff Hyman about how to iden­ti­fy, attract, and retain rock­star employ­ees. Then we talk with Bernie Banks, Kellogg’s asso­ciate dean for lead­er­ship devel­op­ment and a retired brigadier gen­er­al in the U.S. Army, about how to devel­op lead­er­ship tal­ent from the ground up.

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Pod­cast Transcript

[Music intro­duc­tion]

Jes­si­ca LOVE: Build­ing a new busi­ness comes with a lot of uncer­tain­ty — your busi­ness mod­el may be untest­ed, you haven’t been around long enough to build a rep­u­ta­tion, and being new to the scene often means you are work­ing with a tight budget. 

But Kel­logg School lec­tur­er Jeff Hyman says there’s one thing com­pa­nies can do to make the odds of sur­vival as favor­able as possible. 

Jeff HYMAN: If I can recruit the best pos­si­ble peo­ple, it is my com­pet­i­tive advan­tage. It’s more than tech­nol­o­gy. It’s more than brand­ing. It’s more than rais­ing the most mon­ey. If I can put the best peo­ple on the field, I’m going to win the game. 

LOVE: But as any­one who has tried to recruit can­di­dates knows, lur­ing rock stars to your com­pa­ny is no sim­ple task. 

And once they join you, keep­ing them around and per­form­ing is a dif­fer­ent puz­zle alto­geth­er, as Bernie Banks notes. 

Bernie BANKS: Indi­vid­u­als rou­tine­ly leave orga­ni­za­tions because they don’t feel as if they’re chal­lenged enough. When they ask for more chal­lenge, orga­ni­za­tions fail to think cre­ative­ly about how they might pro­vide it. 

LOVE: Wel­come to the Kel­logg Insight pod­cast. I’m your host, Jes­si­ca Love. Today our pro­duc­er Fred Schmalz talks to Jeff Hyman about how to attract rock star” per­form­ers who can make your com­pa­ny shine. Hyman is an adjunct lec­tur­er of man­age­ment and orga­ni­za­tions at Kel­logg as well as the chief tal­ent offi­cer at Strong Suit Exec­u­tive Search. 

In our sec­ond seg­ment, Schmalz talks to Bernie Banks, Kellogg’s asso­ciate dean for lead­er­ship devel­op­ment and a retired brigadier gen­er­al in the U.S. Army. Banks takes a very dif­fer­ent approach to fill­ing your orga­ni­za­tion with rock stars: devel­op­ing them your­selves — which can some­times mean tak­ing a chance on peo­ple who might not be rock stars — at least not yet. 

Stay with us. 

[Music inter­lude]

Fred SCHMALZ: In the last 25 years, Jeff Hyman has hired more than 3,000 peo­ple. He’s made a career out of iden­ti­fy­ing top-per­form­ing employ­ees who con­sis­tent­ly out­shine oth­ers in their vision, ded­i­ca­tion, and productivity. 

These rock stars,” as Hyman calls them, per­form in the top 5 per­cent of peo­ple avail­able at a giv­en pay range. How sig­nif­i­cant is that? Well, accord­ing to Hyman, rock stars are sev­er­al times more pro­duc­tive than the aver­age worker. 

Okay, sounds great. But how do you find some­one like that? 

Hyman says it begins with think­ing about brand­ing. Not prod­uct brand­ing or cus­tomer brand­ing. But brand­ing your com­pa­ny as an out­stand­ing employer. 

Take Google and Deloitte, for example. 

HYMAN: Google’s employ­er brand is all about we hire wicked smart people. 

Oth­er com­pa­nies are all about a fun work – life bal­ance experience. 

Deloitte has done a great job brand­ing them­selves around the career path and the vari­ety of chal­lenges that new employ­ees are going to have as they join, right? 

You need to real­ly think about and hone a dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed posi­tion­ing for your employ­er brand, and that will be com­pelling to the right peo­ple. For the wrong peo­ple, they will opt out. 

SCHMALZ: Part of that posi­tion­ing lies in writ­ing com­pelling job descrip­tions for every posi­tion at your firm. 

For­get the bul­let-point list of require­ments stat­ing that your ide­al can­di­date has a par­tic­u­lar degree and X num­ber of years of expe­ri­ence. All those do is weed peo­ple out. 

HYMAN: You want to weed peo­ple in. 

It’s more of a job invi­ta­tion. We’re invit­ing you to have a con­fi­den­tial dis­cus­sion with us. Make it focused on the com­pa­ny, the indus­try, the oppor­tu­ni­ty. Don’t nar­row the fun­nel by hav­ing a laun­dry list of require­ments. You’ll get to that in the inter­view. God for­bid you have so many can­di­dates that you got to talk to in a job mar­ket like this — that’s a high-class problem. 

SCHMALZ: In addi­tion to weed­ing peo­ple in, you may want to rethink your inter­ac­tions with can­di­dates. Inter­view­ing can­di­dates is fine, but don’t count on the inter­view all by itself to iden­ti­fy a poten­tial high performer. 

First of all, Hyman says, tak­ing what can­di­dates say at face val­ue isn’t always that help­ful. Many peo­ple will pro­mote them­selves dur­ing inter­views — often to the point of strain­ing the truth — try­ing to make them­selves seem like rock stars even if they aren’t.

Sec­ond, inter­view­ers are sus­cep­ti­ble to their own con­fir­ma­tion bias­es. It’s easy to decide with­in the first few sec­onds of meet­ing some­one that they are or are not a rock star, and then spend the rest of the inter­view look­ing for evi­dence to con­firm your opinion. 

And third, most busi­ness lead­ers are not that well-versed in inter­view­ing — much less in con­duct­ing a con­sis­tent set of inter­views for a pool of candidates. 

HYMAN: Most inter­view­ers con­duct an unstruc­tured inter­view. They pick a bunch of ques­tions ran­dom­ly from the air. They’re not in any kind of sequence or struc­ture, and they wind up with a mishmash. 

The end of that inter­view, you don’t real­ly know that much more than when you started. 

SCHMALZ: So Hyman rec­om­mends putting less empha­sis on ques­tions and answers and more empha­sis on what can­di­dates actu­al­ly do. Name­ly, he sug­gests test-dri­ving can­di­dates by hav­ing them com­plete an exer­cise that sim­u­lates the kind of work they’d per­form at your com­pa­ny. That’s where you’ll learn if a can­di­date tru­ly has the poten­tial to be your next rock star. 

[Music inter­lude]

Once you find your rock star and are ready to make an offer they won’t refuse, it’s cru­cial not to skimp on salary. While mon­ey isn’t the main moti­va­tor for high per­form­ers, it can both attract them and sig­nal to them that you val­ue the con­tri­bu­tion they will make. 

But every com­pa­ny has a ceil­ing on what they can pay and how many peo­ple they can bring on board. Hyman has some advice on how you get the most bang for your buck when hiring. 

HYMAN: Rather than hir­ing a big team and pay­ing aver­age because you have a fixed amount of mon­ey that you can afford to pay, divide that amongst a small­er num­ber of peo­ple who are absolute rock stars, huge­ly pro­duc­tive, and you’ll wind up pay­ing the same amount. 

I always tell my clients, hire three rock stars, pay them like eight, and you get the result of 10

SCHMALZ: But do you real­ly need all those rock stars? Can’t you get away with hir­ing a few, you know, back­up singers? 

Not accord­ing to Hyman. 

Fif­teen min­utes of hav­ing the right con­ver­sa­tion can save you 15 hours of a per­son behav­ing in a man­ner that’s not con­sis­tent with how you would have them behave.”

— Bernie Banks

HYMAN: I don’t under­stand busi­ness lead­ers who say, I’m going to get a cou­ple of rock stars and then sur­round them with those B play­ers, those peo­ple who just make the work hap­pen.” I don’t under­stand that mind­set. I think that’s very dan­ger­ous, I don’t think you ever have to set­tle. When you do, your oth­er rock stars take note, and they’re more and more like­ly to leave. They become resent­ful because you’ve low­ered the bar. Rock stars want to work with rock stars. They aspire to chal­lenge. They aspire to great­ness. When you assem­ble that team, you get much low­er attri­tion, it’s much eas­i­er to recruit your next rock star, and it starts to spi­ral in the upward direc­tion. It doesn’t take much to start to spi­ral down when you let B play­ers on the bus. 

[Music inter­lude]

SCHMALZ: Any orga­ni­za­tion can ben­e­fit from an injec­tion of new tal­ent. But what about com­pa­nies that want — or need — to devel­op their own talent? 

Over the course of more than 30 years as an offi­cer in the U.S. Army, Bernie Banks, now an asso­ciate dean for lead­er­ship devel­op­ment at Kel­logg, has learned to take a very dif­fer­ent approach to talent. 

His approach is built on the idea that if you’re a leader, your job is to devel­op oth­er lead­ers. And the best way to do that is to look at each and every mem­ber of your team and fig­ure out how to grow them into a high performer. 

Banks refers to this as bet­ting on everyone.” 

BANKS: The mil­i­tary inher­ent­ly under­stands that they are try­ing to build capa­bil­i­ty in their peo­ple every day because they don’t know what their peo­ple are going to be exposed to on any giv­en day. And so this notion of: you bet on every­one, you pro­vide immer­sive expe­ri­ences, you have chal­lenge, you deal with set­back, you engage in reflec­tion, you try to fig­ure out what con­sti­tutes smart risk, those are all things that are very much part of how the mil­i­tary approach­es devel­op­ing tal­ent with­in its ranks. 

SCHMALZ: Banks points out that for many orga­ni­za­tions, includ­ing the army, invest­ing in the team you have—instead of wor­ry­ing about the team you want—is the only way to ensure that your team is capa­ble of doing what it needs to do. 

BANKS: You have to try to make them into the most capa­ble per­son they can be because tomor­row you might be pre­sent­ed with a threat where you don’t have the lux­u­ry of say­ing, Well, hold on, I’m going to go hire X, Y, or Z.” 

SCHMALZ: This is where you might be think­ing, Invest­ing in every­one sounds like a great idea. But who has those resources?” 

The good news is that, accord­ing to Banks, the only resource you need is time, and maybe not even that much of it. 

BANKS: Fif­teen min­utes of hav­ing the right con­ver­sa­tion can save you 15 hours of a per­son behav­ing in a man­ner that’s not con­sis­tent with how you would have them behave. 

It does not mean that every­one will become an out­stand­ing or amaz­ing leader, but if you add up all those small invest­ments, the aggre­gate across an orga­ni­za­tion can be massive. 

SCHMALZ: But there’s anoth­er strat­e­gy that may make some man­agers uncomfortable: 

To cre­ate a cul­ture in which every­one is a poten­tial rock star, you also have to be will­ing to give oppor­tu­ni­ties to peo­ple who aren’t that experienced. 

This is some­thing that younger com­pa­nies will some­times do — because they have no choice. But more estab­lished com­pa­nies often wait too long to give new per­form­ers the chance to step on stage. 

BANKS: Instead of say­ing, Hey, we’re going to put you in when you have prob­a­bly 70 per­cent of the com­pe­ten­cies required for this role, we’ll wait until you have 90 per­cent.” That’s just wast­ed time for that indi­vid­ual. They’re still pro­gress­ing, but they’re not pro­gress­ing as fast as they could. 

SCHMALZ: Of course, it’s a risk for the com­pa­ny to let a junior per­son take on a big chal­lenge. This is where Banks stress­es the impor­tance of dis­tin­guish­ing smart risk from dumb risk. 

BANKS: Dumb risk is when some­body is not with­in strik­ing dis­tance of what is required, so instead of hav­ing 70 per­cent of the capa­bil­i­ty, they have 30, 40 percent. 

Smart risk is when you say, Hey, some­body prob­a­bly has 70 per­cent of the capa­bil­i­ty nec­es­sary to blow this expe­ri­ence out of the water, and we’re going to pro­vide them the resources and the sup­port struc­ture such that they can fill in their gaps through the tal­ents of oth­ers.” We put them into this con­text where if, in fact, they don’t achieve total suc­cess, we can absorb that setback. 

SCHMALZ: Lead­ers also have to weigh the risks of not act­ing. Banks finds it short­sight­ed when lead­ers refuse to think beyond promotions. 

BANKS: They think in terms of, Well, we don’t have an open­ing to take you up to the next lev­el” of what­ev­er role you’re look­ing at, as opposed to say­ing, I don’t have to pro­mote you to pro­vide you a chal­leng­ing expe­ri­ence. Are there ways in which in your cur­rent role I can give you new chal­leng­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties that you value?” 

SCHMALZ: One way to sup­port younger work­ers while they take on new chal­lenges is to have them head a team that includes a more expe­ri­enced col­league. That way, the younger work­er gets the chance to be in charge, and the more expe­ri­enced one is there to sup­port them. 

BANKS: But that takes a cul­ture that rec­og­nizes that it’s not just about for­mal title and being in charge, it’s about how do I pro­vide the right set of expe­ri­ences to max­i­mize the devel­op­men­tal poten­tial that exists with­in the firm. Not everybody’s cul­ture can do that. 

SCHMALZ: Let’s say you do give some­one the chance to prove them­selves. There will be times when they take a smart risk and stum­ble. Lead­ers have to let their teams know that their set­backs are not going to cause them to auto­mat­i­cal­ly be cast aside. 

BANKS: In a world where peo­ple are under intense pres­sure to per­form every quar­ter to a cer­tain stan­dard, embrac­ing that notion that fail­ure is a nec­es­sary part of the path­way to suc­cess can be very dif­fi­cult. Com­pa­nies say all the time, Fail fast, fail for­ward, we want you to take smart risk, we want you to be inno­v­a­tive.” Yet when you exam­ine what they actu­al­ly mea­sure and reward, risk-tak­ing is not part of it, but it’s absolute­ly essen­tial if you’re going to grow the capa­bil­i­ties such that some­body can ulti­mate­ly have a shot at one day pro­gress­ing to the C-Suite. 

[Music inter­lude]

LOVE: This pro­gram was pro­duced by Jes­si­ca Love, Fred Schmalz, Emi­ly Stone, and Michael Spikes. It was writ­ten by Anne Ford. 

Spe­cial thanks to our guests, Jeff Hyman and Bernie Banks. 

You can stream or down­load our month­ly pod­cast from iTunes, Google Play, or our web­site, where you can read more about attract­ing and retain­ing high per­form­ers. Vis­it us at insight​.kel​logg​.north​west​ern​.edu. We’ll be back next month with anoth­er episode of the Kel­logg Insight podcast. 

Featured Faculty

Bernard Banks

Associate Dean for Leadership Development; Clinical Professor of Management

Jeff Hyman

Adjunct Lecturer of Management & Organizations

About the Writer

Anne Ford is a writer based in Evanston, Illinois.

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