There is a saying that goes “Birds of a feather flock together” and this is often true in recruitment. We have an intuitive tendency to recruit people who are similar to us without any deliberate intention to do so. This is a known bias in recruitment.
As experience proves, it is reassuring and very comfortable in the medium term because these are recruitments with which we are generally very satisfied from the start.
Mais est-ce une bonne approche à moyen ou long terme ?
“I’m sure you’re the one who recruited so-and-so, and it wouldn’t surprise me if you two got along very well.”
The scene, as it happens, takes place during a training session on a behavioral profile assessment solution, the Predictive Index (of which I am a fan and which I recommend).
Members of several managerial strata of the company were present and, of course, to give a concrete dimension to the thing, we started from the profiles of the various participants.
Before going any further, I would like to address a warning to all fans of tests of all kinds. As our (excellent) trainer told us repeatedly: these tools alone should not condition a recruitment or a managerial decision. They provide information, clarify or explain certain things, some profiles are more suitable for certain jobs than others, but this is only one element to be taken into account among others.
At one point, he alerted us to the various biases. “M…. I’m sure it was you who recruited N…. and that you think he’s great”. “Bertrand, I’m sure you think A…. is great and that you are the one who recruited him”. It was right in both cases.
Then came the moment of truth and the comparison of the profiles of the two pairs: almost identical. I would like to point out that the recruitments had been made without any test and that it was therefore a discovery (or a confirmation) after the fact.
As far as I was concerned, I had recruited as my right-hand man someone who functioned exactly like me, even if our personalities were expressed in different ways. Let’s just say that the packaging was different but the contents of the package were almost identical.
Why recruit one’ s clone?
There are two reasons to hire someone who looks like you: one is objective, the other subjective.
The subjective reason is simple to understand: someone who looks like us reassures us and convinces us quickly. In an interview he gives us the same answers that we would give ourselves, he reacts like us to a given situation, he always agrees with us (and vice versa). All this is not necessarily objectified at the beginning but afterwards. On the other hand, we have the feeling that “it will work”.
There may also be objective reasons for recruiting a clone. For example, for reasons related to the position. You may think that to do a certain job there is a more or less typical profile, that you expect a certain type of functioning and reasoning. And then, since you are in charge of the team, chances are that you have the profile in question if you come from the sector and have climbed all the ladders, and that logically the position means that you recruit people who are similar to one another. And who look like you.
It can also be a function of the role you want him to play. For example, when you are really looking for a right-hand man, someone who will take your place when you are not there, take over some of your tasks when necessary, or even succeed you in the near future. I am not saying that this is the typical profile of the right-hand man, but it is a coherent choice insofar as there is a kind of continuity. No matter who does, who decides, there will be a common guideline due to a similar “mental software” which will lead to a similarity of decisions which is reassuring for the continuity of the team’s functioning and even for the collaborators who see a kind of consistency at the top of the team.
But if companies are often criticized for recruiting clones, this is not unfounded either and what may seem like a solution that combines ease and efficiency is not always the right one.
Why recruiting one’ s clone is a mistake
It is easy to take the opposite view of the arguments I have just stated, apart from the subjective bias that will always be present even if one is aware of it.
As far as the reasons linked to the position are concerned, it is now well understood that it is useful, even essential, to bring diversity in the profiles in order to be able to think “out of the box” and to allow for the confrontation of points of view. This is all the more true as we have come to integrate the fact that even in jobs that require a typical profile, for example technical and rigorous, it is necessary to add more intuitive and creative profiles to explore paths that are off the beaten track. Since it is rare for a person to have both, it is necessary to have people who function differently work together, even if one of the profiles remains marginal in number.
Clones create conformity and conformity is the enemy of innovation and resilience.
As for the role, the clone is useful as a right arm but only in the short or medium term.
Firstly, because you have to be able to make him progress quickly. If he is the copy of the chief, he will logically aspire to become chief. This was the case with my recruit at the time, who took over from me when I moved to another position.
Secondly, because even at the top of a team it is good to have diversity and to avoid “group thinking”.
Finally, and more rarely, for reasons of consistency within the team. More rarely, because internal promotion systems continue to promote the best operational people to management positions, which means that they often lose good people in the field to gain bad managers. Those who use other criteria can promote people with a different profile, or even people from a different job who have different internal software. In this case, the manager may find it useful to be assisted by someone who is close to the team members or an “intermediate” profile to exploit his or her difference while being well connected to the field and better understanding it.
Conformity vs. diversity: a question of timing
I think we also need to introduce a concept here that can be called time, maturity or growth.
When a team, a company or an activity is being created, it is logical to strengthen the key profiles because, given the small number of employees, it is not easy to play the profile diversity card. The first people to be recruited must embody the business at its best in terms of soft and hard skills and building a patchwork at this stage could be totally counterproductive, leading the team to be less efficient and creating tensions between personalities.
However, once a backbone is built, it is essential to avoid too much uniformity and to add to the margin people who function differently.
The example of startups is almost a caricature. Look at the profiles present at the beginning of a company and those who, 5 to 10 years later, populate it when it has become “scale up”, the difference is obvious, so much so that at a certain point, by wanting too much to look for people capable of structuring and “scaling” they forget the importance of the innovators and builders of their beginnings and end up paying for it.
This is also where we realize that the issue of different employee profiles goes beyond questions of affinity, consistency and diversity. It also depends on the strategy of a business.
Depending on whether a company is in a take-off phase, structuring or restructuring, whether it is on the defensive, offensive, diversification or refocusing, it absolutely does not need people who operate in the same way. You don’t go back on the offensive with people you’ve recruited to do cost-cutting, you don’t structure a growing company with people who think like those who like the turbulence and disorder of the early days, and you don’t launch a company with profiles that are too rational and structured.
I remember in the 2000’s John Chambers, CEO of Cisco at the time, talking about a strategic shift he had just made and the renewal that it had brought about at the top management level, and even below. He said something like: “It’s like basketball, depending on your system of play you don’t need the same players. It’s not a question of the quality of the players, but of the suitability of the system“. “The people who have brought us to where we are are excellent professionals and I have nothing to reproach them for, but I need other people to take the turn I want to take.”
It is just as easy to reassure oneself by recruiting clones and a fortiori one’s own clones as it is to criticize the dangerous uniformity of profiles in a company or a team.
While the issue of consistency is important, it is also overlooked that a company’s strategy or stage in its lifecycle has a great deal to do with the type of profiles it needs because of the way they operate.