Would your HR Department Hire Michael Jordan?

If I were running a company today, I would have one priority above all others: to acquire as many of the best people as I could. I’d put off everything else to fill my bus. Because things are going to come back. My flywheel is going to start to turn. And the single biggest constraint on the success of my organization is the ability to get and to hang on to enough of the right people.   – Jim Collins

A couple of years ago I was asked to give a speech to a large audience of HR executives. Not being an HR executive and knowing next to nothing about the technical issues of HR (Pensions, Health Care Plans, Performance Management Systems, etc.) I was at a loss for a subject.  “What would HR executives want to hear?” I asked myself.  Then I turned the question around: “What do HR executives need to hear?”  Now I really had a topic.

So I called up a few of my CEO clients and asked them to give me their feelings and experiences with HR.  I listened intently, after all nearly every company promotes the line that “people are our most important asset”.  Here’s a few direct quotes:

“HR considers itself separate from the business…they talk about the business as a client and wanting to do Needs Assessments and a Gap Analysis…….NO! That’s not what I want. I want their butt on the line, like the rest of us. Get in the fray of the operations and help make something positive happen!”

“To be honest, I tune out after a while when the HR exec starts talking….I get too much process, and not enough real
solutions to business problems.”

“What would I really like from HR? Just find me great people…not great resumes, but people who can make things happen in the business. Find me one Michael Jordan…..on second thought, find me a dozen. Then HR would be adding real value to the business.”

So, I prepared my speech:  Would your HR department hire Michael Jordan?

First a few facts about Mr. Jordan (in case you are not from this planet):

  • NBA Superstar, played on 6 Championship teams
  • 1,072 games and 32,292 points, avg. of 31 its/game
  • 5 time NBA MVP
  • $35M salary and $80M from Nike for endorsements
  • 1999 – voted the greatest athlete of the 20th Century

Suppose Michael Jordan walked into the HR department and wanted to join the management team.  Here’s what could, and probably would happen in most HR departments.  He wouldn’t be hired because:

  • There wasn’t an open position.
  • He hadn’t finished college and his grades were bad.
  • He wore an earring to the interview.
  • If he was impressive in the interview, HR would still want to bring in two other candidates for comparison purposes.
  • It would take 90 days to make a hiring decision. If he asked how long it would take, HR would probably say: “We’re not certain.  Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

I can’t help but wonder how many potential superstars have been turned away by process-driven, rule bound HR departments who look for certain stereotypes that will “fit the mould” for the business.

Every CEO I meet and speak with is crying out for great talent. For people who will take accountability, make decisions, improve the business with creative thinking, push themselves and others to get better.

How do you find superstars for your business?  If you found one, would she want to join your company?

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress


About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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5 Responses to Would your HR Department Hire Michael Jordan?

  1. Dear John: You have hit on the major problem with large corporations right here. The HR department is in total control of the hiring process and they are clueless. I hate HR. Respectfully, Mike Petrusek


  2. Tim Mushey says:

    Great post John! I love this perspective. I had a life changing moment 13 years ago when I got my first outside sales role, and I have thought about it often all of these years later. It was down to myself and one other candidate for a sales position, and we both had apparently interviewed well. We did one round of the personality/aptitude tests, and then after the final interview did one more round. I remember these were rather long; 45-60 minutes. I was exhausted.

    Once I was deemed the successful candidate, I asked my boss what the deciding factor in which I was selected. His reply,

    “You scored better on the second test”!

    Keeping in mind I was 26 years old at the time, and still had many life lessons to still learn, I was taken aback by the situation. I thought this was incredibly unfair to the other candidate, but I was very fortunate that I was on my game that day. So many external factors can come in to play with those types of tests.

    If I did not have the focus to excel on that test at that particular moment, I would not have had the opportunity to work with the best group in my career, travel the world by qualifying for sales incentive trips, and learned how to become a true sales professional. That role essentially set me on a career path for success for the rest of my life. If the company had not been purchased in 2007 I would still be there today.

    I love your post because it promotes thinking outside the box, and not having a narrow minded vision with respect to acquiring, nuturing and keeping talent long term.

    If I had done worse than the other candidate that summer day in 1999, I am not sure what would have become of my career!

    Thanks again for the perspective.

    Tim Mushey


  3. Steve Borek says:

    Hiring managers have a bias. A personal bias who they think is the best fit for the position.

    A study was done by MSU that said only 14% of interviews added value to the hiring process. There is a better way. It’s called a Job Benchmark.

    In my process we ask, “What if the job could talk?” What does the job want from a person. Behaviors, values, emotional intelligence, etc.

    To learn more http://endgamebusiness.com/blog/let-the-job-talk/


  4. Anonymous says:

    But…unless your business was running an NBA team 15 years ago you wouldn’t want MJ. Arrogant, egotistical and hard to manage!


    • Agreed. But sounds like lots of senior executives I have met. Success in business is not about all of us being the same or nice, it’s about working together in a way that delivers customer satisfaction and beats the competition.


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