Do hiring managers really look beyond clones?

In my frequent interactions with hiring managers (predominantly C level executives) of global corporations, I am constantly reminded that I should be looking for diversity, whether in skill sets, aptitude, attitude, background or gender when I present candidates. But when it comes to the home run, it is invariably the individual who most closely approximates the hiring manager who makes it to the coveted tape. It is quite obvious that senior executives have a very well defined and limited comfort zone which they are extremely wary of transgressing.

In the course of successfully partnering the 400 odd candidates (and about four three times that number that we could not) that we have placed in this ten year journey of our firm, there have been not more than half a dozen occasions when the hiring manager has really been insistent on not hiring a clone and has actually proceeded to walk the talk. Among them, the one I remember most vividly is someone who had the courage to confess that he was actually "awful" at a few things when he really was not. He was smart enough to raise the bar for the candidate by feigning inadequacy. As it happens, we found him one of the best candidates ever and the two of them have hit it off from Day One culminating in a relationship that has truly strengthened this Wall Street leader's Indian unit.

Insecurity is an all pervasive epidemic that afflicts most Indian professional managers. Somehow, they just dont know how to let go. Conformity and alignment are the virtues that they seem to be obsessed with, much to the detriment of the company. I have known companies where juniors are expected to dress up, gesticulate and articulate like the CEO. Such compliant managers score massive brownie points even as they stymie vibrancy within the organization by parroting someone else's thoughts and never challenging the prevalent paradigm. Many of them are fast tracked through the hierarchy while the megalomaniac boss occupies the corner seat but they fall with a resounding thud when there is a management churn. Bosses of this genre also can't sustain their closed management style beyond a couple of companies as you can't get to pick all your direct reports all the time. Since they have never experienced diversity of thoughts, they are set up to fail in a truly heterogeneous ecosystem which they inherit in a whole new BAU kind of organization.

Job descriptions, like bikinis, conceal more than they reveal. The deep recesses of a hiring manager's mind are never exposed in this generally lifeless document that mechanically lists out a wish list which is generally impossible to achieve. Of course, these documents have all the bells and whistles hanging on pegs like "equal opportunity employer", "affirmative action" and "demand for diversity" but they remain merely decorative.

After all, it takes no less than a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffet to hire direct reports who truly complement their skills and management styles. Identifying the right bunch of folks around a CEO is actually a life and death decision for all business enterprises that dont thrive on crony capitalism and the sooner the boards wake up to this glaring reality, the better for all stakeholders, particularly investors and customers.

Posted in Leadership

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