What do you look for in a job candidate? I’ve hired a lot of people in my career. There are three qualities that I look for: relevant qualifications, strength of moral character, and someone who has a proven track record. In fact, I can narrow down the factors to two because if an applicant has solid personal values and a proven track record of success, we can teach that person the specifics of the business. As Peter Schutz, former president and CEO of Porsche, said, “Hire character. Train skill.”
Until recently, I thought that was pretty obvious.
The fact is, I never based a hiring decision on a candidate’s gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. I simply hired the best person for the job. Period. Steve Jobs captured my philosophy quite well when he said, “The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.”
Recently, there’s been a movement to build diverse organizations through fixed quotas — in essence, to hire and promote people based on non-performance-related criteria rather than on “the content of their character” and individual achievement.
The question that comes to mind is, should workforce diversity replace the goal of hiring the best candidate?
Of course, hiring great people and achieving diversity are not mutually exclusive — that is, it’s possible to have your cake and eat it too. But when push comes to shove, will you hire and promote the best person or fill an arbitrary quota?
Don’t get me wrong. While I’m in complete agreement that we should have a diverse workforce, good intentions can have unintended consequences. For example:
- Should we begin to teach our children that they no longer have control over their destiny? That their success will be predetermined at birth rather than through their strength of character, hard work, and achievement?
- If rewards are based on your identity rather than merit, why work hard, invest in your personal growth, get an advanced degree, or bother “paying your dues”? Hiring and promotions based on arbitrary criteria can lead to complacency and a false sense of security.
- How will your best people react if they’re passed over for promotion because diversity took precedence over merit? Take the shoe-on-the-other-foot test and imagine how you’d feel if the situation were reversed. Will you resent colleagues who get everything handed to them on a silver platter while you work your tail off and produce results?
- When I see a CEO, for example, I assume their achievement was earned. Will I be able to make that same assumption in the future? How will a perception of favoritism affect their ability to lead?
- How will this strategy impact the long-term competitiveness of organizations or even of nations? Ray Dalio, American billionaire, hedge fund manager, and philanthropist, said, “Hire right, because the penalties of hiring wrong are huge.”
- One of the greatest rewards of success is knowing that your hard-fought victory was earned. If rewards are no longer based on merit, will people be able to feel that way?
- Every time you give preferential treatment to one group, you’re penalizing another. Will warring groups compete with each other to gain preferential treatment?
It’s hard to demand equality and expect special treatment.
My parents fled Germany during the Hitler years. I was taught to view people for who they are, not what they are. As such, I believe the solution isn’t to give some groups preferential treatment at the expense of others; rather, the answer is to offer everyone an equal opportunity and give them the tools they need to achieve success. In that situation, everyone is free to decide how hard they’re willing to work and what sacrifices they’re prepared to make to achieve success. So the next time you’re looking to hire or promote someone, ask yourself, should the best person win?
Do You Think the Best Person Should Win?
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