When hiring managers, evaluate them on their track record of building outstanding teams and developing talent. Too many managers get hired for their individual contributor skills and then we're surprised that they're not good managers.

I'm working with an investment group helping them hire a few C-level leaders for one of their major ventures. The head of the group believes in Performance-based Hiring, where people are hired based on their past performance doing comparable work, not their laundry list of skills and experiences. This approach opens up the talent pool to more diverse candidates with broader industry experiences. However, the most important performance-based criteria for him is having a track record of hiring stellar and diverse talent and building organizations that are focused on hiring outstanding people.

When he mentioned this requirement, I told him a personal story from long ago. His reaction wasn't unexpected.

My first lesson on the importance of hiring strong people came a few days after starting on my first management job - I was 26 at the time - the manager of capital budgeting at a "boring" multi-billion-dollar automotive manufacturing company. My boss - the Controller - called me at 10am and said he needed me 20 miles away at the University of Michigan to help him interview an overload of MBA students. We were competing with IBM, Ford and P&G for the best of the bunch. At the time these were considered the best companies to work for and ours didn't even make the top 100.

I told Chuck I had no time to do this and protested vehemently. I then told him about the important report due to the VP Finance and Group President at 8am the next morning that would require late hours that night to finish.

He didn't care. The words he didn't mince still ring in my ears. They ended with:

Hiring the best talent is the most important thing you'll ever do. Everything else can wait.

Well, I hustled over there and we each interviewed eight students, took seven to dinner in Ann Arbor that night and ultimately hired four outstanding people who over the years all became CEOs, CFOs or VPs with significant companies.

Chuck and I got back to the office around 10pm that night and worked until about 4am to finish the report. It was handwritten. The VP Finance and Group President asked why it wasn't done properly. Chuck told them we were doing something more important. They both agreed.

Hiring the best talent is the most important thing you'll ever do. Everything else can wait.

Within five years I was running a manufacturing division of 300 people for another Fortune 500 company, fully attributed to living this lesson. When I became a recruiter I quickly discovered that finding and hiring great people for other companies was not only more fun for me, but it was also a scalable process if done correctly.

The most important part was during the interview finding out about the quality of the people the candidate has hired and then only working with those who were successful. The questioning involved asking candidates for manager-level positions to describe their hiring process, how they built their teams and how many of their people were ultimately promoted into bigger roles. When I asked candidates to describe this, those that clearly "own" the "talent is #1" concept got animated and excited, providing multiple and never-ending examples. While all managers profess the importance of hiring top talent, the responses of those who don't live the mantra are short and their examples are vague and general.

It's important to recognize that hiring managers have a huge responsibility for hiring great people. Unfortunately, most don't take it seriously enough. Instead they delegate it to a recruiter or to the HR department.

As far as I'm concerned, if hiring is really #1 at your company, hiring managers need to be judged on the quality of the people they hire, the performance results of the team, the job satisfaction of each person in the group, the overall department turnover and how many of these people get promoted into bigger roles. Collectively, this is how hiring manager success should be measured. Unfortunately, too many managers get hired because of their individual contributor skills, not their management ability.

Bottom line, if managers aren't good at hiring and developing people, they shouldn't be hiring managers. Or at a minimum they shouldn't be given the primary responsibility for hiring people.

If this seems like too much to do, this lesson from long ago might help:

Hiring the best talent is the most important thing you'll ever do. Everything else can wait.

It's still true today.