Need Amazing Employees? – Hire Those “Defined By Their Work” (Because commitment, work ethic, and mastery will produce amazing results)

Google found that 90% of a team’s value comes from the top 10%. So, recruit this amazing 10%.

A Think Piece – encouraging you to hire those who are defined by their work. 

What Is An “Amazing Employee” (AE)

Reviewing my long talent management career, I quickly remember the handful of colleagues I could truly classify as “amazing.” Amazing is an accurate description of them because these team members not only completed an amazing amount of work on time. But they also served as a role model that improved others around them. The three factors that I use to define an amazing employee are. 

  • Total commitment – because they are 100% purpose-driven. These individuals make a 100% commitment both to “their work” and to meeting the team’s goals. These amazing individuals produce extraordinary results. Because they prioritize their work to the point where it literally becomes part of their identity, and nothing that happens around them can distract them from this commitment. 
  • An exceptional work ethic – in addition to being committed. They also have a powerful internal drive that keeps them constantly thinking about their work. So they voluntarily decide to continue working and to remain in touch with colleagues (even during nights and weekends). “Until the work is done.” 
  • They have developed a mastery – these AE employees are not just hard workers. But they also become “the answer guy.” They have a continuous track record of learning and maintaining a mastery of their profession and industry. This continuous, leading-edge learning means they will likely already be knowledgeable each time a new problem arises.

This means that to qualify as an “amazing employee.” The person must be committed, hard-working, and extremely knowledgeable.

The Many Reasons Why… Managers Should Hire “Amazing Employees” (AE)

Because the recruiting approach that I’m recommending here is not a companywide effort. It is the individual hiring manager who will receive many benefits from amazing new hires. Those benefits to a manager include:

  • You get an amazing amount of work – their combination of commitment, drive, and knowledge allows them to produce an amazing quantity and quality of work. It might exceed 90% of the team’s total output.
  • You will also get an amazing role model – imagine having an amazing employee. In addition to completing a tremendous volume of work, they will also serve as a role model that others in your team will follow. They may also directly train other teammates on how they can develop these three AE factors. As a result, much like a star basketball player like Magic Johnson. They will make others around them better.
  • They can assume the work will be done on time – imagine the pure joy of having an amazing employee. Because of their commitment and work ethic, their manager can just assume that their work will always be completed by the deadline. And because they are self-motivated and laser-focused on the work. They won’t allow other things to distract them. And that reliability and consistency will free up their manager so they can spend their time worrying about other things.
  • The new hire won’t require much management time – imagine an employee that requires little of a manager’s time (because they don’t need to be watched, coached, or prodded). And because they are essentially a “learning machine.” Their manager won’t have to spend any time educating them.
  • The new hire will automatically find new work – imagine having an employee who automatically finds additional work when they have nothing to do. And because they never slack, their manager won’t have to worry about watching them.
  • They will assume ownership – because they are 100% committed to meeting team goals. An amazing employee won’t want important new problems to be ignored. So, instead of not getting involved. They (with permission) will assume ownership and accountability for a problem being ignored. 
  • The AE won’t likely suffer from burnout – even though these individuals will always be busy doing an extraordinary amount of work. They won’t likely suffer from burnout because they have purposely assigned a lower priority to most of their other outside-of-work demands. 
  • There will be no added salary cost because these AEs normally work in exempt positions. No additional salary needs to be allocated for the added hours that they put in.

So, even if your corporate HR department has purposely tried to reduce employee commitments to “the work element” of the work/life balance ratio, that doesn’t prevent individual managers from hiring one or two of these “amazing employees” for their team. So, the remainder of this article highlights how an individual manager can successfully attract and hire these amazing individuals. 

Action Steps For Those Who Want To Implement This Recruiting Process

This section covers the recommended action steps that a manager must take to find and hire amazing candidates. 

  • Benchmark against the best (startups) – if you want to learn about hiring employees with commitment. There’s no better way to learn than to analyze startup hiring. Literally every startup I have researched has found a way to successfully develop a hiring process, ensuring everyone on the team is 100% committed. As an added benefit, I have found that most startup team members also seem proud of this shared commitment. Some of the hiring lessons that the corporate world can gain from startups. Include the use of peer interviews and giving the candidate a short demonstration assignment with the team. Other learnings include directly inquiring about a candidate’s available time, taking them out for a drink, and making it clear that even a dip in an employee’s commitment and collaboration will be an automatic dealbreaker.
  • Realize that the recruiting competition will be low – even though these amazing candidates will add extraordinary value. In most cases, you will find them relatively easy to hire. Mostly because few in corporate recruiting actually target these individuals.
  • Focus on exempt jobs – although you can hire amazing candidates into nonexempt positions because it involves overhead pay. Most of your focus should be on hiring professionals for exempt positions. First, because these positions are most likely to have the highest impact. But also because exempt employees can work the required additional hours without the need for documentation for overtime pay.
  • Asking those who “know talent” is the best way to find amazing candidates – you won’t find any amazing candidates using active recruiting sources. Because of their great value, these potential applicants will almost certainly be currently employed. So, only passive sources have a chance of working. And only one sourcing approach has been proven to be the most effective: gathering names from exceptional individuals that “know talent.” The first group of talent experts should be your own current and past amazing employees. Don’t ask them for referrals. Instead, describe what you mean by an amazing employee (i.e., commitment, work ethic, and knowledge). Then, only ask them for the names of the handful of individuals in their field that they have found truly amazing. The next group of talent experts that you should approach are your own exceptional managers. Once again, precisely describe what you mean (and don’t mean) by an amazing employee. Again, be satisfied with only a handful of names. The last group to approach is the most insightful job references that you have used during the last year. This can be a highly fruitful source because it may often be used as a reference. When an individual reference provides you with even a few great names, consider making them a permanent referral source. To the reader, I suggest that you try doing this exercise. When I have, my immediate response has been the names – Master, Trena, Michael, Chris, and another Michael. Note: other effective sources have been your former amazing employees (boomerangs). And for amazing college hires, ask your exceptional college hires from last year.
  • Adjust your applicant attraction messaging – obviously, you have to excite any potential amazing applicant before you can even open a discussion with them. Start by analyzing and rewriting your current recruitment marketing and job posting materials. So, it makes it crystal clear to potential applicants that you have laser-focused your hiring on individuals who meet your three amazing employee characteristics. Use attraction and welcoming phrases throughout your materials. Including “If your work is your life, you will love it here” or “If you would love being surrounded by experts, please apply. You can also add “alert phrases” like “you must be able to demonstrate your exceptional work ethic.” Or “we are only hiring candidates that have maintained a mastery in their field.” 
  • Modify your resume screening process – first, analyze and revise your resume search algorithm. So that it accurately identifies the resumes of candidates who are most likely to have each of the three amazing characteristics. Look for words/phrases like dedicated, committed, loyal, and long tenure to identify commitment. Also, add that having recently worked at a startup is a potential indicator of understanding a strong commitment. Identify those with an exceptional work ethic with words/phrases like just mentioning work ethic. Or put in the needed hours, worked nights/weekends/overtime, and/or stayed until the work was done. Indications of mastery in a resume might include the word mastery, becoming an expert, having a learning mindset, being benchmarked, and having a learning network.
  • Modify your reference-checking process – when you have determined that you may have found an amazing candidate. Don’t wait to do their reference checks. Instead, quickly call each of their top-quality references. Then, after describing “an amazing employee.” Ask them upfront if in their view, and without hesitation. Does this candidate meet the high standards of “a truly amazing employee?” If the answer is no, continue by asking them to name two or three amazing employees they know working in this field.
  • Modify your interview process – Finally, you will need to modify your candidate assessment /interview process. So that it accurately identifies candidates who clearly meet your three factors. Do that by considering the following actions in and around interviews. 
  1. Utilize peer interviews –the most effective way to a candidate on these three factors. It is to have them participate in a “peer interview” (peers only with no manager). Because in this unique setting. Coworkers have routinely excelled at identifying a candidate’s actual levels of commitment, work ethic, and mastery. At the end, the peer interviewers will be asked to rate the candidate on each of the three factors anonymously. And I would put a significant weight on those ratings.
  2. Ask the candidates to rank their job preferences – I recommend that you be direct with your amazing candidates. So, as part of their interview, provide them with a list of the typical factors that cover a candidate’s job preferences. Those preferences often include the work itself, compensation, work/life balance, promotional opportunities, available training, PTO, etc. After they have ranked their preferences, then target the candidates that highly rank “the work” or having a purpose/making a difference and/or that place a low rank on work/life balance or PTO.
  3. Ask them to quantify their commitment – after avoiding mentioning the importance of commitment. Ask a candidate to rate their commitment level at each of their last three jobs (from 100 to 1). At the end of the interview, ask them to rate their likely commitment level for this job honestly.
  4. Ask them to quantify their level of mastery – without emphasizing the importance of continuous learning. Ask them to rate their level of mastery in their functional area (from 100 to 1). Also, assess where they learn by asking them to name and describe the top three learning sources they have used to remain on the leading edge of knowledge. Consider giving them a common problem that they will face on this job. Ask them to walk you through their steps to master this subject area. 
  5. Ask them work ethic related questions – ask them to self-assess the strength of their work ethic (from 100 to 1). Also, ask them to estimate the hours they would be available for after-hours work during a typical week. You should also ask them to demonstrate and give examples of their sense of urgency. Also, realize that warning them upfront about their expected weekly work hours will help scare away many of your lower work ethic candidates. I would also note that a commercial test is available to assess work ethic levels (Workplace Productivity Profile (WPP)). 
  6. Ask them about their motivators – a key contributor to commitment and work ethic is a candidate’s level of motivation. So ask likely AE candidates to list in rank order the factors that motivate them on the job. And take requiring very few additional motivators (outside of the work itself) as a positive sign. You can also ask the candidate directly for their honest self-assessment of their level of self-motivation (from 100 to 1). 
  7. Listen for their work/life priorities – I don’t recommend asking direct questions about a candidate’s work/life priorities. However, you should be an active listener. Be aware of this when a candidate asks about PTO or the required overtime. Also, be aware when a candidate informally volunteers that they have made anything other than work their #1 priority (e.g., retirement, hobbies, a career change, family). But never use that priority as a knockout factor.

Final Thoughts

When HR pushes for “more life” and puts a lower emphasis on work, it’s unwittingly reducing the total workforce’s commitment to the work and the company! And because all of the managers I know instead need much more productivity and commitment. 

So, in my view, individual managers must buck this trend. By putting together an outline of a plan for specifically recruiting candidates who are likely to become “amazing employees.” Fortunately, it only takes one or two of these new hires on a team to make a powerful difference. And remember, even one of them may produce 90% of your team’s value.

Note: I must clearly state that there’s nothing wrong with a candidate or an employee wanting more of a life outside of work. But when the person makes it a conscious choice. They must realize that by lowering their commitment to work and by raising their commitment to things outside of work. They make it less likely that they will be recruited or become an amazing employee. It is still possible, but it’s less likely. 

Author’s Note

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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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