How to Hire a Team of Top Performers

Every organization wants to hire all-star employees.  Increasingly, businesses are unwilling to invest in the training that is required to cultivate those top attorneys and bankers. Talent is cultivated.  It is not a natural trait gifted by fate. So it is always nice to have the science to back it up, thanks to Stanford researcher Carol Dweck. 

Dweck ran a series of experiments in New York elementary schools to see how a student’s belief in innate talent influenced their own learning. Dweck’s study praised one group of kids for their inherent “intelligence” and the other group for their hard work.  The students were then given a choice between two taking one or two additional tests[1]

One test was described as being easy and of the same level of difficulty of the test the students just took. The other test was described as being more difficult but presenting a greater learning opportunity.  Most students praised for the intelligence opted for the “easier” test, while nine out of ten students praised for their hard work attempted the “more challenging” set of problems.

Dweck then gave a more advanced test to her subjects.  Afterward she gave them the option of seeing the test of those that either did better or worse than they did.  The kids who were praised for their hard work wanted to see how the top performers solved the problems, where as the “smart” kids wanted to feel better by seeing the test of underperformers. When all the subjects were retested, the “smart” kids saw an average drop of 20 percent in their scores while the “hard working” kids saw their scores jump by an average of 30 points.

Those praised for being hard workers were encouraged to have a growth mindset.  They embraced the fact that learning is a process where failure occurs, followed by continuous hard work, which translates to gains in knowledge, skills, and superior performance.

Clearly this has a huge impact on how a company might chose to manage their human capital.  A company that hires a person because someone is “smart” or went to a college where “smart” people go, is simply saying this candidate has the skills they need to be successful in this predefined role and as a firm we will not expect them or need them to do anything beyond the skills we are hiring them for.  I have yet to have a job that did not require new skills to be learned or responsibilities to be assumed outside of those listed on the job posting.

Hire those orientated to a growth mindset.  Encourage managers to praise efforts over innate talent.  At Google, team members of failed projects are still awarded bonuses and often given priority in their next placement to foster the growth mindset.  And of course, train your employees so they can experience failure in a controlled environment and maximize learning early on, far from the eyes of clients.

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[1] Thanks to Wired for bringing the particulars of this study to our attention and neatly summarizing Dweck’s work.  For more check out the article at: http://www.wired.com/2011/10/why-do-some-people-learn-faster-2/