There’s a myth somewhere out there that hiring top people is the most important thing any manager can do. Actually it might be true in Wonderland, but from what I can tell in most companies it’s just talk.

To prove it I suggest company leaders honestly answer the following three questions. They pretty much tell the tale if your company is doing a good enough job at hiring or just talking about it.

The Three Best Questions You Can Ask to Determine if Your Hiring is Good Enough

Question 1: Are the people your company is attracting representative of the best people in the field?

If you answered no to this question it means you have a serious hiring problem. This is illustrated by the graphic. The circle represents the total talent market. The strongest group of candidates is shown by the horizontal segment at the top. The tear drop represents the people most companies typically attract – a few strong people, a bigger group of above average candidates and far too many less qualified people. As a result companies need to spend an inordinate amount of time weeding out the weakest candidates in the hope a few top people remain. Spending more time with fewer stronger people is a better approach. This is represented by the red circle labeled “A” in the upper segment.

The dinner conversation I had with a business leader the other day explains the issue. He been had been the CFO at two publicly traded F500 companies and was responsible for hiring hundreds of people over the years. When I showed him the graphic, his instant reaction was that you could use it to segment the entire recruiting industry. Executive search firms only work with the top 25%, the best staffing firms work with people in the top half and internal recruiting departments build the tear drop and hope they get lucky.

We both agreed though that this could be volume related. Corporate recruiters typically work 15-20 requisitions or more so they can’t be expected to hire the best people possible. Theirs is a very transactional process but the cost of being more efficient comes with a reduction in quality of hire. That’s why recruiters at executive search firms handle fewer than 5-6 assignments at once, and at staffing firms it’s around 10 assignments.

Question 2: Are the people your company is attracting equal to or stronger than the people already employed by your company?

If you answered no to this question it means you not only have a current sourcing problem but in the long-term your business will be losing its competitive edge. It’s hard to implement a raising the talent bar strategy if your company is not attracting the best people in the market. I refer to this dilemma as the Staffing Spiral of Doom Catch-22. The video explains the problem and some strategic advice on how to extract yourself.

Question 3: Are you hiring the best people you’re attracting?

Even if you’re seeing the best people in the field, if you can’t hire them it means your downstream interviewing and recruiting processes are flawed. If you’re still using some combination of competency models, pre-screening assessment tests, behavioral interviewing and skills-laden job descriptions, look to these as the cause of the problem, not the solution. The Catch-22 video above will help define the problem and this Performance-based Hiring micro course on will help solve it. Performance-based Hiring is the process Harvard Professor Todd Rose, author of The End of Average, considers “the sweet spot for hiring talent in the 21st century.”

Hiring Advice from the Red Queen

Remember Alice? She's your new recruiter. She’s struggling on a few important search projects. The Red Queen is a senior business leader providing some unusual advice. (The dialogue below is from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass).

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

According to the Red Queen, once everyone has the same technology the law of diminishing returns will ensure everyone will get the same results. In this case the winners will be those who have the right strategy and run the fastest in the right direction.