hiring, head of school, senior leadership, talent, data, education, leadership, leaders, moneyball

Identifying Talent: From Baseball to Schools

One of my favorite books is Moneyball by Michael Lewis (2003)—and the movie is one I watch at least once a year. The relevance for an educational recruiter? Moneyball is one of the best reminders ever that outward appearances or a dazzling interview cannot determine the quality of real talent—in a ball player, a teacher, or in a head of school.

Malcolm Gladwell, the social commentator, does a good job of reminding us that stereotypes, such as height, can distract us into thinking someone has more talent or leadership potential than in fact that person truly has. We know, as Gladwell confirms, there is a multitude of biases which can distract and mislead us in the hunt for talent. 

Lewis and Gladwell both point us toward sourcing the real thing—the person who brings the legitimate skills, experience, and talents to the job, no matter the field or industry. It’s not in how the candidate makes you feel or how the person bedazzles the hiring team with a sizzling demonstration lesson or interview. The secret to finding real and sustainable talent lies in three important words: evidence, evidence, evidence! Research confirms that if a manager has ten extra minutes and the choice is between interviewing the candidate again or making another reference call, there is no question—make the call!  

Two more resources for doing well in the hiring game. I was fortunate to have someone hand me Pierre Mornell’s savvy book, Hiring Smart: How to Predict Winners and Losers in the Incredibly Expensive People Reading Game early in my career. It’s a treasure trove of thoughtful ways to make sure that you and your hiring team are not “snowed” by a candidate’s rendition of their past, and how to ascertain a candidate’s track record from a reference. A couple of tried and true methods: how quickly does the reference get back to you? Do you ask for the “unvarnished” truth? And have you asked if the potential employee will be an “outstanding” member of your team? 

The second resource, Who, by Geoff Smart and Randy Street, outlines terrific strategies for effective hiring practices. One of my favorite ideas: do a short initial session with a potential candidate and see if that person can identify 2-3 areas of significant positive impact that they have had in their work environment. What you see pretty quickly is not only what the potential hire has done, but you are able to assess how the person thinks about doing their job. Does it align with your school’s culture and program, as well as your needs for this position? 

Hiring is not easy, but it is clearly one of the most important responsibilities of a senior leader. Billy Beane in Moneyball learned to study the baseball stats of the candidates he acquired—and it made a huge difference to reaching the play-offs three years in a row for a low-budget team. Don’t be fooled by a “gut feeling!” Ground your hiring decisions in the data that counts. That’s the ticket for a win in hiring!