Harvard Business School Has It All Wrong?

The title of the article is: “It’s better to hire a pleasant employee than a superstar, according to Harvard.”

This widely read article is based on some Harvard Business School research, but it MISREPRESENTS that research. The author is a poet (no, I didn’t make that up) who says:

  • working paper from Harvard Business School analyzed the impact of hiring employees who exhibited harmful behavior toward coworkers and organizations. 
  • The study found that superstar employees, who generate 80% of profits, sometimes come with “toxic” behaviors that non-superstars are less likely to bring with them. 
  • Extreme confidence, charisma and over-productivity are traits that are often possessed by superstar employees — but these traits are often also possessed by employees who engage in harmful practices.

I hate to read articles on leadership or, particularly, on hiring that misrepresent the truth. In the article entitled It’s better to hire a pleasant employee the author, who is an award-winning poet, not a business leader, shows a clear bias against hiring high performers and toward hiring people who are mediocre performers, but “pleasant.”

For example, she quotes the Harvard research: “Because superstar employees regularly put in so much work, they sometimes generate as much as 80 percent of business profits.” But she goes on to say don’t hire them even though they generate 80% of profits?!

She implies that because fast runners often get away with picking peoples’ pockets, most fast runners are likely to be pickpockets. She assumes that it is very unlikely for you to hire people with the most desirable qualities (like hard working, confident, etc.) because it is likely that they also have toxic qualities like violating company policies, sexual harassment, and stealing from the company.

The Harvard Conclusions: instead of recommending not hiring super high performers, the researchers suggest that you should hire them but be sure they are not going to engage in the toxic behaviors. Unfortunately, the Harvard Business School researchers don’t offer solutions.

Topgrading has the solution. For 40 years, tens of thousands of managers and hundreds of companies HAVE hired very high performers who did NOT exhibit any of the toxic behaviors.

I’ve conducted over 6,000 5-hour interviews with executives and the vast majority are extremely confident because they have achieved so much, but the great leaders are also humble and wonderful team players. Many are also charismatic. And no toxic behaviors. Of my 6,000 interviews of candidates for top executive positions I’m aware of only one who stole from the company; and by the way, I strongly recommended against hiring the guy, but my client did. Going against my recommendations is very rare – but this huge mistake caused the company’s demise.

Here’s how Topgrading prevents bad hires:

  • TRUTH. Candidates know they eventually will arrange reference calls with their managers, so candidates guilty of toxic behaviors drop out. Good!
  • DEEP INTERVIEWS. In the Topgrading Interview every success and failure is explored and candidates guess how every boss would rate them and what they would list as their strengths and weaker points. Knowing that they will arrange calls with bosses, candidates don’t lie. Topgraders almost never hear a candidate admit to toxic behaviors. If they do, the candidate is eliminated.
  • VERIFICATION. To be sure no toxic behaviors have occurred, candidates arrange the reference calls with bosses, you conduct those calls, and you get rave reviews of your candidate and no hint of toxic behaviors, or you won’t hire them!

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