This Kid’s Got Talent—But What About the Job?

In a new book, The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else, journalist George Anders reports on how leading companies such as Facebook and Google are taking unconventional approaches to finding especially talented new employees.

“Traditional measures of past achievement, such as test scores and academic degrees, are losing power,” Anders writes, “and companies are getting better at looking for those future superstars who deliver many times the value of someone who is merely good.” Facebook, for instance, has rolled out extraordinarily difficult online puzzles to both test and woo top-flight computer programmers.

Peter Drucker, who often lamented what he called “creeping credentialism,” would have been delighted to see these new approaches applied to talent scouting. Yet, as we’ve discussed, he would also have stressed the importance of figuring out what the job is really all about before focusing on the talent needed to fill it.

Photo credit: Pink Sherbert Photography

[EXPAND More]“When the task is to select a new regional sales manager,” Drucker explained, “the responsible executive must first know what the heart of the assignment is: to recruit and train new salespeople because, say, the present sales force is nearing retirement age? Or is it to open up . . . new and growing markets? Or, since the bulk of sales still comes from products that are 25 years old, is it to establish a market presence for the company’s new products? Each of these is a different assignment and requires a different kind of person.”

Not everyone agrees with Drucker’s approach. Jim Collins (though a Drucker disciple) maintains that the smartest businesses figure out “Who’s on the bus?” before anything else. “If you begin with ‘who’ rather than ‘what,’ you can more easily adapt to a changing world,” Collins writes in Good to Great.

Drucker, though, was adamant. Even if someone is brilliant, he advised, managers should generally avoid building a job around him or her.

“If the job is designed for an individual rather than for a task, it has to be restructured every time there is a change in the incumbent,” Drucker warned. “Restructuring a job usually means restructuring a score of jobs, moving people around and upsetting everybody.” Only in the case of an “exceedingly rare, truly exceptional” person should that policy be broken.

When it comes to recruiting talent, which do you think should be the first priority: “For what?” or “Who?”—and why?[/EXPAND]