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Don’t let managers hire their own teams


One of the more radical ideas in Laszlo Bock’s “Work Rules! Insights from inside Google that will transform how you live and lead” is that you shouldn’t let managers hire their own team. HR needs to control that decision.

Think about that for a moment. In the extreme version if a manager needs a new team member, HR will say “Fine, we’ll go out and get them and let you know when we are done.” At Google it wouldn’t go that far; the manager would be involved in the decision. However, it’s the extreme version we need to consider because the watered-down “manager closely involved” version is too close to the traditional “manager decides / HR helps” model. The fundamental point is whether the real decision-making power rests with the manager or with HR.

Here’s why managers shouldn’t pick their own teams: most managers don’t make good hiring decisions (even though they are convinced they do). Since hiring is a crucial decision we shouldn’t put it in the hands of someone who isn’t good at it.

If the manager isn’t making the choice who is? The answer is not so much a “who” as a “what”. There should be an evidence-based process that looks at assessment tests, biodata, reference checks and a series of structured interviews. This is the standard sort of process HR should excel at; and if it doesn’t it should build the capability.

A compromise position might be to let the HR process narrow down the choice to two or three people, all of whom are good, and then let the manager make the final choice. If all the candidates are equally good then letting the manager make the choice won’t harm the quality of hire. But what if they are not equally good? Are we willing to have a process that often picks the 2nd or 3rd best player because it makes our manager’s happy to have the choice?

There is a more profound reason not to leave the final choice to the manager. If the manager makes the decision it increases their power relative to the employee. That may not be a good thing. If the employee is chosen by the company; then their first loyalty is to the company; and the manager is just the person who at the moment helps provide direction. Reduction of status differences is one characteristic of high-involvement organizations and this is one way to reduce the status gap.

Managers, of course, will not like this new model at all. They have two good arguments against it and one bad one. The first good argument is that the HR process may be poor and hence hire the wrong people. That’s a good point, but really it’s just a good argument for investing in effective hiring processes, not an argument that we should default to letting manager’s make the decision, a mechanism which we know is ineffective. The second good argument is that the manager will be more committed to making the new hire successful if they made the hiring decision. That’s true, but it’s probably not sufficient to justify an ineffective hiring process.

The one bad argument will appear in all kinds of guises but you’ll recognize that underneath the guises is the fact that managers like the power of being able to hire and will say anything to try to keep it. Human’s like power, of course they want it; that’s not a reason to give it to them.

Given how much managers will object to the new model it will be a tough sell. Saying that “Google does it” is a strong point, but won’t be sufficient. The best strategy is to go about building a really strong evidence-based hiring process and it will become harder and harder for manager’s to make choices that are contrary to the evidence. Once that process is established the company is in a position to make the decision as to whether they agree with Google that taking hiring power out of the manager’s hands is a good idea.

Taking hiring power away from managers is a radical idea, but it’s a good one.


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