Casting People


by Lee Thayer


Your organization grows. Or at least it is “supposed” to.


If it does, you are faced directly with the two fundamental challenges of leadership.


One is this: Have I rightly composed the organization for its purposes? Does my organization have the right roles – the right way of doing things – to propel it toward its mission?


The second is: How shall I attract and select just the right people for just the right roles in my organization? You are the casting director.


We’ll delve into the first question in the near future. Here we’ll consider in a pragmatic way the second question: How can I attract and choose just the right person to be cast in just the right role?


First, some essential background:

  • The best people are already employed. They are not the ones who are looking for a position.
  • If you want them, you may have to find them.
  • If they are looking for a better place to go, they are looking for the best. They want a demanding, challenging place to go – where they can and have to up their performance.
  • If they are looking, they are looking for the kind of organization that is the best, but is still deliberately upping its performance every day.
  • If your organization is not the best, you may have to settle for less than the best.
  • Even then, you may have to woo them away from where they are.
  • Those who are already high performers can be lured only by a fully competent organization where people are engaged in learning to get better every day – and then only if they are likely to find there the best and most competent mentors for themselves.


If this is your organization, you might be able to attract some of the best. If not, you will either have to lower your sights or, raise the performance of your organization to the top in order to be the place where the best want to be.


The universities that have the champion teams don’t have to spend that much on “recruiting” for next year. The best prospects will apply. Engage your best people as talent scouts.


So the first law of recruiting is: Be the best in your business. That’s what attracts the attention of those people who are on the process of becoming the best at what they do. Losers can’t be choosers.


Then, some pragmatics:

  • In the business culture of today, we play the game of recruiting and selecting upside down. It is not your organization that should be interviewing new hires. It is the new hire that should be interviewing you. For you, it is merely someone to play a needed role. For them, it is their lives which are at stake – or at least their careers.
  • The most competent people (the ones you’d really like to hire) would prepare as follows:
    • They would decide where in the world they want to be
    • They would decide what industry or business they want to be in
    • They would decide which company they want to join
    • They would perform due diligence on that company
    • They would then decide who they wanted to apprentice to in that company
    • They would show up knowing as much about your organization and your industry or business as you do.
    • They would show you a pro forma setting forth what they would be worth to your company, and what the cost to you would be.
    • They would want to do business with you in the same way you would want to do business.
    • They would share with you the role description they would live up to. The two of you could then collaborate to make it mutual. To them it would be a performance commitment. To you, like money in the bank.


So much for the recruiting part of it. World-class people do not send out slick resumes. They know that these are mostly hyperbole. They want to be one of the key people who makes your organization’s future. They know as well as you do that past performance is no guarantor of future performance. Like you, they are all about the future.


The interview itself? People of that caliber don’t want to waste their time. They intend to be asked to interview once and to leave with an offer.


This make the process easy and simple. All you have to do, after performing your due diligence on the person, is to say:

“I take it you are here to convince me that we could not hire anyone better than you for this role, at any more advantageous a contract. Convince me.”


Put your feet on your desk and await the candidate’s performance. How he or she performs the interview from there on will predict well to how they would perform for you and your organization in the future. There is no better test.


So here’s the first law of interviewing: It takes one to know one.  If that’s you, let your intuition be your guide. If that is not you, you’ll have to settle for the scraps.


Those are the important do’s. Here are the important don’ts:

  • Don’t do this by “committee.” Committees are often a way of merely diffusing responsibility.
  • Don’t expect mediocre people either to recruit or select someone who is better than they are. The judgments people make will tell you more about the one doing the judging than about the candidate.
  • Don’t delegate or distribute the decision. If it is your team, you make the decision. If it is someone else’s team, that leader should make the decision and be responsible for the consequences.
  • Don’t pass up the opportunity to get only the best of those with whom the candidate would be working involved. Their performance should be critiqued. It is a good development exercise.
  • Don’t make the decision for the candidate. That decision is for him or her to make in order to make them own the consequences.
  • Don’t imagine there is a perfect way to do this. There isn’t one. The outcome will never be any better than the people who produce it.


Who to hire will always be the most important strategic decision you will ever make. Do this right, and many down-the-road problems will not occur.
Lee Thayer has 45+ years’ experience as a CEO coach and consultant, working with CEOs “in the trenches” to create high-performance organizations. His recent acclaimed books include: Leadership: Thinking, Being, Doing; The Good Leader; Leaders and Leadership; Leadership Virtuosity; How Leaders Think; Explaining Things; Communication! and The Competent Organization.


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