When you have an urgent business need to be met, or a performance problem to be handled, it’s easy to think that hiring a “go-getter” is the solution. But, as cautioned by Chip and Dan Heath in their book Switch, “What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.”

Let’s say you have a product:

Your Problem Struggling to move the product
Your Goal To sell more of the product

Your Hypothesized Solution

To hire a “go-getter” sales rep

Your Evidence (Supporting the Hypothesis)

Is there any?
Your Results (Projected) Profit. Success.

We see this all the time. Managers see the problem, assume the solution is to “hire a go-getter,” and go charging ahead. But that logic is often based on several unexamined (and potentially flawed) assumptions: 

  • A person is the solution.
  • People want your job (especially successful top performers).
  • Your environment is set up for success.
  • You can manage anyone you hire (even for a new functional area).

With no evidence, why would you assume any of these assumptions are true? 

So before you charge forward with hiring someone, consider the following questions:

  • Is your work environment the problem? Should you change your environment before bringing in someone new?
  • Is there some other non-environmental constraint within your organization that might be preventing your success?
  • What evidence exists to indicate that this is a people problem, solved by hiring?
  • Why is the job more attractive than similar jobs in your market?
    • Do you pay better?
    • Are you better positioned for success?
    • Are you able (and likely) to promote successful candidates?
    • Do you have a more compelling or attractive product/mission/etc.?
  • What steps have you taken to pave the way for the candidate’s success? Have you:
    • Made steps to improve your environment?
    • Created the support structure to back up your candidate?
    • Hired support team members to help the new hire be successful?

When hiring managers skip these tough questions, it results in an incomplete picture of the situation. And without definitive answers, these hiring managers fall into a trap. They sidestep the difficult answers, and revert to a much more basic thought process: “I need a sales rep. People always want jobs. So, if I post a job, candidates will come running.”

But the best people will expect answers to those questions. So bottom line: if you don’t know the answers, you won’t recruit the best people. But figure it all out before your start recruiting, and your odds of landing a top performer will skyrocket.