In this twenty-minute or so video from the 2008 New Yorker Conference, Gladwell talks about one of my favorite topics, measurement dysfunction (although he never uses that term) , as applied to choosing who to hire. Like everything he says or writes, it's fascinating. He talks about the the total lack of correlation between the pre-hiring evaluation and post-hiring performance of professional hockey and football players, school teachers, and lawyers. He has lots more examples that didn't fit in the time allotted for his talk.
I'm sure that my various co-workers are tired of hearing me talk about how freelancing and contracting is the inevitable future employment model, and that the only thing that is holding it back now is job lock because of the lack of universal health care in the United States. There are two reasons why this is our future.
- Competitive pressures are increasingly making it difficult for organizations to keep talented (and hence expensive) employees on the payroll without keeping them working on projects that directly lead to revenue generation in the short term. This is not good in the long term for either the organization or the employee in an information economy. It's a form of eating your seed corn and it can only be successful in the long term if your employees are an easily replaceable fungible commodity. (Hint: they're not. Regardless of the state of the economy, there is always a competitive marketplace for the really good people.)
- It's impossible to know who to hire. There is no test that tells you who the great employees will be. Past performance is no predictor of future performance. There is no way to tell ahead of time which job candidate will be a good match for your organizational culture and for the task at hand. The only way to know for sure is to hire them and try them out. This is the crux of Gladwell's talk. That's why I think the wave of the future is hiring contractors, and then keep hiring the good ones. And not hiring them as regular employees (see point #1). (Yes, I realize there's an IRS issue here. That needs to be addressed along with the health care issue.)
Gladwell's talk is worth your time if you have any input into hiring in your organization. And even if you don't.