Hire the Smartest People You Can Find?

Category: People

A popular concept in business literature is to surround yourself with the smartest people you can find. The corollary to this belief is to always hire the smartest people. This is an idea that I endorse– to a degree.

 

Following are three times when hiring the smartest person can create more problems than they solve.


 - Don’t hire the smartest person if she is not a good fit for your culture.

 - Don’t hire the smartest person if he will create a financial burden.

 - Don’t hire the smartest person if she is overqualified


Culture – I sometimes feel like a broken record on this point because it’s so important that I never miss an opportunity to repeat it. Remember, your culture is defined by your vision, mission, and values. When you hire people who are a good fit for your culture, you strengthen both your culture and your brand.

 

On the other hand, those who are not a good culture fit will endeavor to inject their own values and beliefs and this will damage your culture. If this person is just average, it’s an easy decision to help this person move on to a company where she is a better fit.

 

But, when the person is high performing, it can cause conflict in the decision to let her go. How can I fire Sally? She has the highest sales almost every month. In this situation, it’s hard to remember that the short run benefits of increased sales will always be overshadowed by the long term consequences of damage to your culture and brand.

 

You are always better off hiring for values and culture fit first and other qualifications second.


Financial Burden – Frequently the smartest person in the room knows it and commands a wage commensurate with that talent. If his wages are going to create a financial hardship for your company then I would hesitate and ask more questions before making a hiring decision.

 - Will this person bring enough value to the organization to justify his wages?

 - What is the likelihood that he will bring in more revenue than what you are paying him?

 - Will he make the company so efficient that you will save more than the wage premium you are paying him?

 

Small companies face special challenges in this area since the wrong hiring decision can be the difference between growing larger and bankruptcy.

 

One way to handle the pay issue is to structure this person’s wages so that base salary is in alignment with what you were expecting to pay. Then, make up the difference by providing bonus payments that are directly related to the sales and/ or savings he creates. Be warned though, if he is as smart and competent as claimed, it may be more expensive in the long run to pay the bonuses.


Overqualified – Smart people are constantly looking for opportunities to grow and learn. After all, how do you think they got so smart?

 

So, if this person is overqualified for the position and there is no opportunity for her to expand the position both of you are going to be dissatisfied. Your new smart hire is going to be quickly bored and looking for something more challenging. And you are going to have to deal with a dissatisfied employee and probably rapid turnover.

 

Similarly, don’t hire the smartest person if you don’t plan to listen to what she has to say. You don’t necessarily have to agree with or implement all of her ideas and recommendations. However, if you don’t actively listen, engage her, and allow her to expand her responsibilities as she grows, then you are paying a premium for smartness for absolutely no reason. And, as mentioned above, she will start looking for more meaningful work where she can make an impact.

 

Overall, if the smartest person is a good cultural fit, doesn’t create a financial burden, and is not overqualified then yes, the smartest person is definitely the best person for the job.