The results of an interesting poll from the folks at Gallup came out a few days ago. Seems that, while 80% of the folks out there think where someone went to school is important, only 46% of the leaders who actually hire college graduates think it is. In fact, only 9% of them rated it “Highly important”. Similar results when it comes to your college major: 47% of the population at arge think it is “Highly important" – but only 28% of the executives think so. It appears most folks think college is a lot more important than business leaders do.
So if having the right diploma from the right place isn’t the ticket, what is? Laszlo Bock, the senior VP of people operations at Google had a great answer. A couple of the key attributes:
“The No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information.”
Thinking ability is more important than rote knowledge – and school is much better at drilling facts and lingo into young people’s heads than it is at instilling the ability to think.
“Leadership — in particular emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don’t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.”
When to lead and when to follow – from my point of view the higher someone is in the organization, the tougher – but even more important it is – to know when to stop leading and start following. As Bock explains, if you don’t know when to follow you can’t learn.
“Humility and ownership. “It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in,” he said, to try to solve any problem — and the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others. “Your end goal,” explained Bock, “is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.” … “it’s “intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.”
The best phrase from the interview: “You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time.”
“What we’ve seen is that the people who are the most successful here, who we want to hire, will have a fierce position. They’ll argue like hell. They’ll be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, ‘here’s a new fact,’ and they’ll go, ‘Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right.’ You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time.”
He concludes by trashing experts in functional silos:
“The least important attribute they look for is ‘expertise.’ Said Bock: ‘If you take somebody who has high cognitive ability, is innately curious, willing to learn and has emergent leadership skills, and you hire them as an H.R. person or finance person, and they have no content knowledge, and you compare them with someone who’s been doing just one thing and is a world expert, the expert will go: ‘I’ve seen this 100 times before; here’s what you do.’ ‘ Most of the time the nonexpert will come up with the same answer, added Bock, ‘because most of the time it’s not that hard.” Sure, once in a while they will mess it up, he said, but once in a while they’ll also come up with an answer that is totally new. And there is huge value in that.’”
This is powerful stuff because he is really explaining how to hire raw talent that fits a culture, which is the polar opposite of how most HR folks in most companies go about their business.
If there is anything missing from the Google approach I would say it is that a potential employee should be able to demonstrate a commitment to something bigger than him or herself. Whether it is their church, their family, saving the whales - or just about anything - a candidate should be able to point to something for which they have made a significant self-sacrifice. I can’t see how a company can build a lean culture if the folks working there put their highest priority on themselves and their paycheck.
Good stuff from Google … and I would think the fodder for some interesting discussions with the senior execs and the HR people at just about every company.