Don’t hire the person in front of you, hire the person you’re going to help them become.
The now cliché quote from hockey great, Wayne Gretzky, has been overplayed when it comes to talking about business, products, and services. The point of the quote, “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been,” is not to react to what’s immediately in front of you, but what will be in front of you shortly.
The same strategy should be used in hiring. I’ve used it in the last twenty years, and it rarely fails. I don’t hire the person in front of me, but the person I know that I can help them become. Sometimes this means getting a designer to their next level of craft or into a confident leadership role. And in other cases, it means bringing in someone who has all of the ability and aptitude, but none of the skills.
Two of my best employees ever were persons who did not have any of the skills needed immediately to perform the roles that I needed to be fulfilled. While they were very professional, their resumes were bare of the base qualifications, but there was plenty of evidence that both had the aptitude to jump into new vocations and learn what they needed to become solid performers.
The downside was the immediate initial investment I had to make to provide on-the-job training. The upside was unlocking new skills, thinking, and confidence. The same employees eventually took over my role and not only excelled but went on to amazing careers. After twenty years of hiring, I am proud to say there are many others who had left my employment much better off than when we first met.
These particular cases are a tad extreme, but for me, they were evidence that people who are willing to learn — willing to fight for the role — are always worth the investment.
As leaders and employers our job is to find the right fit, but often the person in front of you is not always the same shape as the role you are trying to fill. That doesn’t mean they aren’t capable, it just means more work for you in the beginning, but the payoff is likely to be huge.
Don’t hire for where people are today, hire for where you will get them tomorrow.