You’re Playing Checkers When You Should Be Playing Chess


Oct 31, 2017

“I’ll have you know I’ve been hiring people for 20 years” said our client. “We didn’t know someone could make mistakes for that long and not learn from them” we said grinning.



What do you look for when you hire? Technical skills? Leadership ability? Communication? “Intangibles”?

If you are like the countless clients we have helped over the years, including the one in this Case Study, you probably look for a combination of all of these things in some way, shape or form.

Now…this is even more important…what do you look AT when you hire?

Again, if you are like this client and the many who came before him you look at 1-3 pieces of paper you may have heard referred to as a “resume”.

And that is where you (and he) are making your first mistakes.

A resume is a one dimensional tool that you are using to play a three dimensional game and you are allowing yourself to fall into this trap largely because you are viewing hiring as a one dimensional transaction when in reality it is a multi-dimensional undertaking, the impact of which is felt by many within your organization over an extended period of time.

In the case of this particular client (the company’s COO), he was looking to add a Manager who would report to him and act as a conduit between the entire Executive and all the various departments involved in business operations. A lot of moving parts to the role, but more importantly, a lot of moving people around the role.

This was our first time dealing with this particular company and as such we ran our standard intake process. We took the Leadership team through a session to establish the true cultural values of the organization, we interviewed the various stakeholders the role would impact to gain their perspective, and we ran our proprietary colours-based behavioural & emotional intelligence assessment on everyone this person would need to communicate with as they execute the functions of the role.

Armed with this data we very quickly mapped the market, targeted key talent that had all the technical attributes and began assessing all who were interested against the battery of benchmarks we had built. We shortlisted our top three candidates and submitted them to the COO.

Within minutes we received his all-caps response…”UNDERWHELMED”.

We called him up shortly thereafter and had the following, loosely paraphrased conversation:

Us: Hey Bob (not his real name but you probably figured that out). Got your e-mail. It sounds like you had a few concerns with the candidates we sent you.

Not Bob: More than “a few”.

Us: OK, can you break your concerns down for us a bit?

Not Bob: Not really, they just honestly aren’t very good. I don’t see any of them being a fit here.

Us: What makes you say that?

Not Bob: Well, I can tell already that two of my guys aren’t going to like the first candidate and the other two candidates are going to fall flat on their face inside of three months. To be honest I expected more, I thought you guys were going to nail this.

Us: We find that really surprising. Can you tell me what you’re basing this on?

Not Bob: The first guy has only been in his current job for three years and looking at that company it’s too small for him to have ever been really tested. The next candidate has been in her role longer but I’d argue she’s been there too long; if she’s so good why hasn’t someone tried to lure her away sooner? The last person just seems like the middle version of the other two. I’m not Goldilocks, I’m not going to just pick someone because I don’t like the other two.

Us: Well what about the data we sent you? It shows that not only do all three have the right values for your company and behavioural temperament for the role itself, the second candidate is in the absolute sweet spot from an emotional intelligence standpoint for the team you’re having your biggest challenges with. There’s an excellent chance that she actually causes your existing people to find an extra gear themselves.

Not Bob: I didn’t see any of that. The resumes were so far off the mark in my opinion that I didn’t bother going any further.

Us: Well, let’s go over it together now then. We think you’ll see what we are talking about.

Not Bob: No need.

Us: Why’s that?

Not Bob: The resumes told me enough. There’s no sense wasting any more time on these candidates. I’ll have you know that I’ve been hiring people for 20 years…

Us: (Interrupting) …we didn’t know someone could make mistakes for that long and not learn from them.

Not Bob: (silence)…then a chuckle. Alright then, so what makes you think you’ve got something with these?

What followed was a breakdown of all three levels of what we looked for. First, the right cultural values match given that values are the one part of our personalities that don’t change thus cannot be under emphasized at the point of hire. Second enough technical competence to hit the ground running but ceiling for growth and thus longevity, and finally the right behavioural and emotional match relative to existing stakeholders to not only make the candidate’s first few critical months smoother, but as we said to Not Bob, potentially bring even more performance out of those he already had working for him.

Now, it may look like we’re picking on Not Bob here but we aren’t. He is like so many hiring managers we’ve worked with; he knows what he knows and he goes with with what he knows. (There is a rumour that he sells seas shells by the sea shore too but that’s another case study).

The point is, Not Bob was not being unreasonable, he was being a human being.

We explained to him that HE was the one doing the hiring which means HIS subconscious was in the driver’s seat here. It would subversively convince him that it was all going to be on him if he got it wrong. As a result, he, like every hiring manager with a subconscious (that’s all of you by the way) was set to operate from a blindspot. He would be compelled write his own narrative as to what the best and worst case scenario looks like and compulsively look for information in the early stages of the hiring process to prove that narrative right. It’s no wonder that according to CareerBuilder, 95% of all hiring managers admit to making at least one poor hiring decision…EVERY YEAR!

Leaders are smart people, they didn’t get into leadership roles by accident. How is it that these smart people keep getting this part of leadership wrong?

It’s simple, they are playing checkers because no one has ever taught them how to play chess. They lack knowledge and information leaving their brain to fill in the gaps for them, often to poor results. If they were given the tools, they’d play a bigger game.

Not Bob plays chess now. Not Bob plays three-dimensional chess. He has broken free of looking at hiring as pain, as a nuisance and as a transaction. He now looks at it as a strategic opportunity to better those around him by putting better people around them.

After proving what crappy checkers players we are, we were the ones willing to teach Not Bob how to play chess. Maybe you’d like to let us teach you too?


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