Hire for the Person, Not the Role

I know I’m going out on a limb here because almost every human resources professional I have ever met says: “You need to clearly define the job role and then hire for that role”. Although I appreciate the historical reasons for this approach and have even been seduced by what seems like intuitive wisdom, experience has taught me that this approach is backwards. I wholeheartedly believe you should hire for the person, not the role. I know, I will likely be hunted as a heretical witch, to be tried and burnt at the stake by the “human resources inquisition”, but I fundamentally think that the very title “human resources” should be removed from all the corporate terminology anyway. Perhaps it might be best for “human resources” to be stricken from the English language altogether. Now that I have finished on my soapbox, I will get back to what this article is about; hire for the person, not the role.

What is the Right Place for a Role Description?

It’s not to say that the role or role description isn’t important in hiring, it is, for a day. Rather than focusing on listing everything out for a role description, you need to be clear about the current gaps in your team. Ask yourself, what’s the job that needs to be done? There definitely needs to be time spent defining the Skilz that are missing and what the person would do if they were to join your team.

How Long do Role Descriptions Last?

I’d like you to consider this; how long do you think a role description lasts? Personally, I give it a day, and it is the day the new team member is hired. Why only one day you ask? Once you have the right person in your team, it only takes a few days for them to change their role. It is important to remember that you are not hiring a role, you are hiring a human being who has aspirations, experience, capabilities, talent, and a darn good reason to come and join your team. Once they start learning new skills, they will make the job, the role, and the work their own. When they own the work and start expanding what they can do, how long does that original role description going to last? Not very long if that person is highly energised and highly capable of the role.

A highly skilled, highly energised person will start taking command over new things they are capable of and need to be done, irrespective of what their role description says. Why? Because having autonomy, mastery and learning are all a part of being human and being highly energised in the work we do every day. If you are nurturing this person to grow and you’ve created the environment for a high-performing, high-energy team, this is what everyone will do. They won’t “drop the ball” for others to fall over, they’ll pick them up and run. They will take every opportunity to learn, to be challenged, and do whatever jobs need to be done without being asked. When they pick up new things, as you have always wanted them to do, guess what? They’ve changed their role description.

Role Descriptions have the Potential to Kill Energy

As I said before, the role description is important, but what we really need to be hiring for is that person who is not only going to be able to address the role we imagine but be able to morph into something else. If we are rigid and push everything into specific boxes of a role and want only people to stay in those lanes of their role, you’re setting yourself up for a person who will transcend the role in days and become de-energised. If you hold them to that role and only to that role, they will stop learning, they will not have a way to express themselves, and they will lose their purpose of why they started working with you in the first place. Sure, if you force it, it might take a month, a year or even five, but eventually, they will lose their soul, and their energy will leave. All the while, they will be sucking the life out of your team and your business.

If you are watchful, you might catch them before they leave and move to a new role. However, if you have hired for a person and not a role, you will know that you need to continuously re-craft roles around the people you have. When a person starts showing great capability, dare I call it leadership, and starts taking on new stuff, we change their role description. You might even change their salary to align with their new role. In great teams, we always change the role to match the person. That is what you need to do to keep the best people at high performance. So why are we so fixated on needing a perfectly defined role when we hire someone new?

Final Thoughts

I challenge you to think of a role description only as an articulation of the work that needs to be done on the first day. It certainly helps when writing a job ad and attracting someone with the skills and experience to do the job. However, when a person arrives, know that the role becomes secondary. If you hire the right person, they will always be able to do the role. But hiring just for the right role won’t get you the right person. My suggestion; watch for whoever arrives, and if they have the energy and just enough Skilz to do the role, grab them.

The right person will make the role their own. They will even write the role description for themselves without you even asking them to do it.

Hire for people, not for roles.