​How do you hire the best - and is it worth it?

'The war for talent' is a phrase that has become something of a cliché but in essence it's true: in competitive industries it's hard to hire brilliant people.

Managers often feel under pressure to fill roles. Some markets can have limited employment pools from which to source talent.

"As a manager, I would rather have no one than someone who is second best."
Sarah Court, Head of Human Resources, Retail and Business Banking, NZ

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So the critical issue becomes: do you hire someone adequate but not brilliant because of the pressure of deadlines or holes in an organisation? Or do you wait until you find someone brilliant – and wear the opportunity cost of not having the role filled?

For me, it is the latter. Don't hire anyone unless they are brilliant. As a manager, I would rather have no one than someone who is second best. A poor or even average recruitment decision will always come back to bite you - no matter how much you talk yourself into it.

So, how do you know if you are making the best decision? Or whether you are taking the best of an average or even a bad bunch?

Best? Or second rate?

It's important to be very clear about what high performance looks like. If you don't know what you are looking for, you won't know when you have found it (or not found it, as the case may be).

When you go to buy a new house, you make a list of what you are looking for. It might be good sun, a great view, a double garage, a kitchen that postdates the 1980s and a backyard for the kids to run around in – these are the critical attributes.

It can be hard to find that perfect house for the perfect price. But you know what the priorities are and you don't buy the first house you see. You don't go looking for a house without thinking about what you really need or buy a house that has maybe one of the things are you looking for - you can't move the sun but you can update that orange kitchen.

Recruitment is similar. There are some skills candidates have to have and there are some you will be able to develop in them. But you need to know what those are before you go hunting.

Must haves and can learns

Often you can look at an individual and know they are talented, always get results and are loved by customers and colleagues. But clearly articulating what that looks like and what you can attribute to that person can be challenging.

Managers need to observe and understand their high performers, what makes them successful and what differentiates them from others.

Sustainable high-performing teams are made up of individuals led by people who know what high performance looks like, how to find those high performers and how to retain them by keeping them engaged, motivated and challenged.

What is high performance?

Understanding high performance is more than just knowing who is meeting targets or delivering business projects. Those are the things you can easily see but the 'how' is another more difficult quality to observe.

Spending time working out what is in the secret sauce of your or another team's performance is well worth the time.

At ANZ we have used a variety of tools including testing, focus groups and surveys to really hone in the unique skills, experiences and attributes high performers possess and then used that data and insights to design targeted recruitment processes.

Once you have done this, the next step is to find where those people are and ensure they meet the criteria that you have identified.

Being clear about what differentiates performance means being clear about how high performers go about doing their role.

This includes:

-what behaviours set them apart from average or lower performers;

-what knowledge and skills they possess that relate to the role they are doing;

-what are the relevant critical experiences they need to have had to be fabulous in their role and even future roles.

Don't look in the mirror

A common pitfall in recruitment is for leaders to hire someone who is like themselves. You don't need another you, you already have yourself and what makes you successful in your own leadership role may not be what makes others successful in a different role.

Even if you used to do the role you are recruiting for, remember the skills that made you successful in the past may not be the skills that will make someone else successful today and in the future.

The journey begins with articulating clearly what this person is and does. At ANZ we have worked on being very clear about what differentiates high performers, what makes people talented and how we source and assess those people.

This process must be practical and individual.


When you have listed those key behaviours, skills, critical experiences and knowledge, you need to decide at which part in the process you will assess them.

An interview is no longer the be all and end all. A robust process that includes a variety of assessments will increase your ability to hire the high performer, not the person who can just do the job.

Don't get me wrong, I know the perfect person is hard and sometimes impossible to find. But being clear on what the critical inventory of skills, knowledge and experience are enables you to be clear on what you as a leader can develop.

These recruitment processes need to make it easy to make good decisions and hard to make poor decisions. Gone are the days when managers could take someone out for a coffee, have a good chat and make a decision on whether they 'fit' with the team.

Recruitment is now more of a science than an art. It is important to clearly articulate all the skills, experience and knowledge you need. There will always be skills that people bring to the table and then there will be skills or knowledge that you need to develop that are unique to your organisation and customers' needs.

Most importantly, leaders should never accept someone who can 'just do the job'. High-performing organisations find and keep high-performing people. You are only as good as your team and a high-performing team is a result of a great leader.

Sarah Court is NZ Head of Human Resources for ANZ Retail and Business Banking.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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