The perils of hiring like-minded people

Employers often look for employees who share traits with themselves. But that's a recipe to miss out on other needed skills, Pierre Battah writes.

While we have yet to perfect the cloning of employees, many employers go to great lengths to repeatedly hire in their own image.

Some employers hire those who went to the same schools, have had similar career paths or come from similar socioeconomic backgrounds. Why, they sometimes even look alike, and are all roughly the same age.

In a recent study published in the American Sociological Review, half of the employers studied looked for the baseline of technical skills first but really wanted people who they will bond with, who they will feel good around, who will be their friend.

More than half ranked 'cultural fit' — the similarity to a firm's existing employee base in leisure pursuits, background and self-presentation — as the most important criterion at the job interview stage.

People surround themselves with people from their network who they can relate to, Pierre Battah writes. (Pierre Battah)

It should come as no surprise that people surround themselves with people from their network who they can relate to. It is much easier to get buy in on your ideas when you surround yourself with individuals who think like you, talk like you and act like you.

However there is great danger in hiring in your own image, not only systemic or even racial or gender discrimination but other implications as well.

As Dee Hock the founder of Visa famously coined, "it is foolish to replicate your strengths when hiring, idiotic to replicate your weaknesses."

Hock went on to write that "it is essential to employ, trust and reward those whose perspective, ability and judgement are radically different from yours."

The implications of hiring in your own image are that you lose out on differing perspectives, seeing the organisation's challenges from exactly the same viewpoint and developing a sizeable shared blind spot.

Such practices can also lead to groupthink where all go along with decisions for the sake of team harmony. Creativity, innovation and growth can suffer in the absence of diversity, vigorous debate and conflict.

Common traits

Highly effective and diverse work teams often work as a collaborative coalition of those who share a common goal but who bring very different perspectives and see problems and solutions very differently.

Leading diverse groups and hiring people that are smarter than you who will always tell you the truth takes courage not to mention humility.

I have a lot of admiration for organisations and leaders who take the more difficult road of hiring for differences rather than for similarities. Leaders who have the strength to hire those who will disagree with them, challenge them and bring a very different perspective.

Hats off to the managers or supervisors who do not use themselves as a yardstick to recruit or measure others performance. They coach their employees to be their best and help them find their own unique qualities, skills and perspectives far different from the bosses or everybody else's.


Pierre Battah

Human resource management consultant

Pierre Battah is Information Morning's Workplace Specialist. Battah & Associates is a management consulting firm specializing in Human Resource Management.