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Sometimes the Best People Make the Worst Hires

Posted over 2 years ago by Ollie Purdom
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Businesses across the globe are always looking to identify and develop the best possible talent for their teams. No surprises there. We work with clients every day of the week to identify who they are, where they are and what their motivations are.

Ensuring a good cultural fit isn’t a new concept either. Scan any employment related blogs and culture will feature prominently.

Research abounds regarding how to nurture and develop top performers and a performance culture. What’s less prevalent is research in to the impact a ‘toxic’ employee has in the work place. Harvard Business School (HBR) recently released a paper simply titled ‘Toxic Workers’ and their conclusions make interesting reading.

Common sense dictates that hiring a toxic worker is bad for culture and morale. We’ve probably all experienced it; the over aggressive Sales Director who doesn’t care who they trample on in the pursuit of targets, or the young upstart hell bent on a rapid rise to prominence, the list goes on. The problem is, as HBR’s research finds, these employees are usually far more productive than the average employee.

So here lies the issue; when presented with the opportunity to hire (or retain/promote) such a high performing individual, a large percentage of businesses will overlook cultural impact (consciously or subconsciously), blinkered by the associated profit.

Tellingly what HBR’s research finds is that “setting aside justice and ethical motivations for avoiding toxic workers, we find that avoiding toxic workers is still better for the firm in terms of net profitability, despite losing out on a highly productive worker.”

The paper isn’t saying firms shouldn’t focus on identifying star performers – there are plenty of high performers who are also superb cultural ambassadors – but the findings draw correlation between the benefit of hiring a ‘superstar’ versus the value of avoiding a toxic worker. Interestingly, their conclusions suggest that “succeeding in the latter generates returns of nearly two-to-one compared to those generated when firms hire a superstar”.

From a recruitment and development perspective, what this research fundamentally shows is that recruiting (or promoting) on skills alone can have an extremely detrimental effect on both moral and business performance, so taking time to understand and recruit/develop against both experience and core values is essential in building a team capable of sustainable growth.

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