I was professionally trained in Statistics and one of my favorite principles was: Regression to the Mean. Statistically speaking, it simply means that participants of a population of data that are outside of the normal distribution of data will eventually normalize back closer to the mean. For example; if you mated 7’ tall men and women, the probability is that their children would be closer to the mean, i.e. they’d be shorter than their parents, albeit still taller than the overall population. Evolutionarily speaking, ‘extremes’ rarely succeed, it’s those plants or animals that may exhibit slight exceptions to average that succeed in moving the gene pool, not the extraordinary. Ever look at a stand of similar species of trees and look at the heights of those trees? The heights are remarkably constant; all close to the ‘mean’. And what exactly does this have to do with talent and the manufacturing and distribution industries? Let me ‘regress’…
Years ago, I hired a new recruiter into my office. “Susan” had had several years of recruiting experience, and was remarkably outgoing and aggressive on the phones. In recruiting, the number one predictor of success for a new employee, regardless of their previous experience is the amount of phone time they incur. In Susan’s first two weeks, her phone time was nearly double the existing staff of recruiters in my office and I told her to keep it up; it’ll pay tremendous dividends to her learning curve and immediate success. After about 3-4 months, Susan’s phone time was roughly ‘average’ for the office. Why? She regressed to the mean. The subtle effects of ‘social evolution’ were at play. Although the recruiters surrounding her are all high-performing, and well-tenured, Susan mirrored her phone time metrics to those of the high-performers, even though that was the one metric that was critical to HER specific learning curve and success in learning a new industry. New employees mirror the activities of their new peers, regardless of whether that’s in the best interests of the new employer. People who aggressively exceed the performance of their peers, simply don’t succeed for too long.
We’ve built our company around the tenets of Branford Smart’s book “Topgrading”. It’s an excellent treatise on defining and qualifying talent into A players or B players, with the underlining premise that A players are the key to extraordinary success. I still subscribe to that premise, but after 15 years of recruiting, I also recognize that not every company is an A company, and that doesn’t mean that they’re not successful; success is in the minds of the beholder. And a B player in one company can become an A player in another. Hiring talent is about matching: skills, expectations, personalities, responsibilities, etc. Ultimately most companies are a collection of ‘average’ people: all hovering about the mean for that company. Success then becomes managing your team of ‘average’ to meet the objectives of your company. Missing your goals? Hire talent that is above your mean, and replace the talent that is below the mean; which statistically speaking means you have increased the value of the mean. (You’ve raised the bar for acceptable performance within your company) The caveat to that statement; rarely do people hire someone who is disproportionately stronger than themselves. In recruiter parlance; B players never hire A players. So increasing the value of your company’s mean, may not be practical if you yourself are ‘average’. And importantly, your new and current employees all mirror your performance; no matter how outstanding they were to start with.
I’ve read hundreds of “Job Descriptions’ from our clients and I can honestly tell you that the vast majority describe an ‘average employee’; although our clients wouldn’t readily admit to that. So let’s run that ad for your average new employee:
Average Regional Sales Manager Join our average-performing company with ten consecutive years of meeting industry average performance. Must be modestly committed to delivering average results, with average commensurate compensation. Average benefits, average work conditions and average training will supplied. “A’ players need not apply, this position will lead to average promotion expectations, provide average merit increases and an average retirement plan.
Somewhere along the way, average became unacceptable. Who has a child in school that is ‘average’; where the teacher isn’t accused of doing something seriously wrong? Get out of college with a 2.0 or 2.2? Average? No, unemployable. We have universally decided that to be ‘average’, you have to be roughly in the top 25% of everyone or everything else, which is mathematically impossible, but there’s always the marketing ‘spin’ to make it appear so. In reality, both biologically and socially; ‘average’ has extraordinary strength and reliability.
I can’t count how many CEO’s I’ve met that are just average that are running successful companies. And they succeed because they hire a few super bright guys who create the vision and goals for the average employees to implement. The problem of attracting a company of ‘averages’ is that no one can admit they want and need a bench of average employees to deliver above-average results. The over-use of screening tools today just creates more confusion than they resolve; identifying a candidate with great results and accomplishments and then find they have an IQ of 101 (average) can literally get them kicked out of consideration. Testing companies can make an assumption of future performance based solely upon how someone answers 30-40 internet questions; ‘interpreted’ by someone who has never done the job they’re screening, all because of correlations among non-related variables. It’s simply bad science and it creates an un-warranted myth that results can come only from the exceptional, not from ‘average’.
Give me an employee who delivers the averages every day, who ‘shows up’ and does their job and I’ll out-pace every company who competes with me who spends years trying to Topgrade their company into all ‘A’ players.
November presents the opportunity to give thanks to all of our clients and candidates who have supported us for 15 years. We’ve surpassed our record year and we have you to be thankful for.
Ted Konnerth, Egret Consulting Group’s founder and CEO, recruits on a retained basis, helping leaders in the electrical and lighting industry identify their next C and V-level hire. He is also the executive director for the International Retained Search Associates, allowing him to liaise with skilled recruiters around the globe. To learn more about how Ted can help your company attract talent view his biography, check him out on LinkedIn or email him at email@example.com.