May 3; Hiring The Perfect Employee Can Take Forever;
MANAGEMENT BY THE BOOK:
365 Daily Bible Verse &
One-Minute Management Lessons For The Busy Faithful

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Chapter Five: Hiring; 3 May

To all perfection I see a limit…

Psalms 119:96a

Hiring the perfect employee can take forever

Imperfection

In Norfolk, Virginia, ORF, I met some of the smartest people in the airline business. It was in the early 1980’s and business was booming and good companies were looking for good people. Airlines enticed job candidates with spousal benefits. The female employees at one company worn t-shirts:

Marry Me

Fly Free

Air travel was becoming a commodity, where the only differences between products or services was in the price. The leadership at air carrier People Express (PEx) well understood that a competitive advantage might be gained in selling the least expensive seat and by hiring the best people. ‘People are our most important asset’ and all that.

PEx didn’t want just the best employees. Management wanted perfect people. PEx carried Extreme Hiring to its logical conclusion where all imperfect applicants were rejected. The result? Nobody got in.

The airline wanted to, 1) grow fast and 2) be the best in breed. PEx’s initial growth launch took off with high-flying talent.

But there are only just so many perfect people. PEx found it easier to buy equipment (airplanes) and other airlines (routes) than to buy human resources (people).

It was a people problem. Here’s PEx’s HR pursuit of excellent running the numbers down the funnel. Starting with intake at the top, 100 screened job applicants would produce one trainee who then received five weeks of (unpaid!) training. This was with still no guarantee of employment. Then the lucky candidate had to pass another screening test and get 90%. It was academic, textbook, grade ‘A’ perfect. Journalists and consultants loved it.

Which is why professors, reporters and consultants make such poor managers. They work in the world of perfection. Individual contributors who do the doing must complete their work perfectly, within tight tolerances, six-sigma quality (3.4 defects per million opportunities) and quality is job one. This is work done by individual effort usually with and on machinery.

Managers do not work with perfection. They must not. Managers get things done through people and the crooked condition of imperfect, fallen men. Getting something done through another human being requires wide tolerances and a tolerance for ambiguity. Men are not machinery.

The search for outstanding staff is time consuming. Finding that one perfect employee is do-able. Finding hundreds would take forever. PEx did not have the luxury of time in the no-frills, low-cost market segment.

Still, the airline demanded ‘all perfects’ for very large workforce. PEx’s hiring process was expensive, time consuming and not able to produce the number of talented staff to fuel the airline’s steep growth. It was a People Express mess.

Management expert Jeffery Pfeffer sums the airline disaster,

The strategy of rapid growth was incompatible with the systems for managing the work force…a 1:100 employee selection ratio…with extensive cross-training…led ultimately to the organization’s demise.

People Express Airline crashed and burned in 1987.

The Psalmist tells us about creation and human nature on this side of eternity, To all perfection I see a limit…. Psalms 119:96a.

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