Recently, while watching re-run of West Wing (episode 17 season 5), I was amazed at the way do’s and don’ts of talent management / acquisition stood out.
Before, proceeding further, let me summarize the episode to set context, in this episode the President of US and his staff deal with filling a vacancy due to death of a sitting Supreme Court Judge. Key protagonists are Josh (Dy. Chief of staff) and Toby (Communications Director). While being inspired by the Episode, I allowed for dramatics and political context of entire narrative. I am hoping for similar consideration from all readers, when I relate incidences from the storyline.
Avoid trap of ‘acceptability and fit in’- Almost entire episode has all key hiring manager (US President and his senior staff) supporting Judge Shelton, as a centrist, who wouldn’t alienate people, and will be acceptable to leadership; allowing them to fill vacant position. How often have we seen this happening in organizations? People being hired or moved, using the Path of least resistance.
Process of Selection vs. Elimination - Both Josh and Toby are impressed with candidature of Judge Evelyn Lang, till they find that she had abortion during her college days. They and other member of senior staff decide to drop her because possible opposition from conservatives. While discussing the shortlist, President asks about her and when informed, his reaction is “are we dropping anyone else for legal activities?”. This happens so many times hiring managers or key stakeholders tend to add too many reasons to eliminate candidates and end up supporting not the Best but most acceptable one.
Many times best people are not the most acceptable – Toby’s feedback to the President after meeting Judge Mulready, a conservative nominee of RNC, sums up the message. “I hate him, I hate him, but he is brilliant”. Mostly, brilliant people end up rattling the cage, they are opinionated and yes as hiring manager (HR or line) you may feel very uncomfortable. But it’s in your interest to see past the irritants and recognize their brilliance.
Champion and Sponsor - While interacting with his assistant Josh gets an idea to get Evelyn Lang as Chief Justice. He gets Mulready as nominee for Associate Judge. After initial hesitation he and Toby decide to take this proposal forward and make it happen even with all skepticism and doubt among stakeholders including the President. Key to this was their desire to have a talent like Judge Lang. They Championed and sponsored the candidates.
Big Picture – Josh was able to create solutions by looking at big picture and using it to sell. He overcame resistance and doubt from the President by selling the idea of appointing “First Women Chief Justice”. Often we get so caught up with a set role(s), job(s) or vacant position(s) that we lose sight of opportunities provided by bigger picture and context.
Hiring for Potential and future – Judge Mulready makes a great point while responding to a question about affirmative action. “Grades are for past performance and admission for Potential.” Hire for Potential, remember, you are hiring for future. It’s important to gather information and data for past performance and achievements. But never forget you are hiring for future.
Focus on, what is important to you, instead of defeating others- One Key reason for Josh and team’s success was realizing what is important and focusing on that, instead of trying to win everything. This is much beyond collaboration and compromise. This is about strategic and focused approach.
Pluralism of ideas – While responding to President on Judge Shelton, (Preferred Choice) Judge Mulready quotes names of four sitting Judges and says Centrist will still be well represented if all of them are gone. Use Judge Lang, she is very good. More often than not we end up hiring similar people in name of “Cultural fit” with different ethnicity, religion, gender etc. and claim to have a diverse team. It’s like having same material in different color, shape and labeled bottles; calling it a multi product offering. True diversity lies in pluralism of ideas and thoughts.
Last tip, focus on doing your job of Talent Management/Acquisition so you don’t end up saying: “I was so busy saving my job that I forgot to do my job” – Michael Douglas as and in The American President.
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