Why it is wise to go for the second best instead of an ‘A’ player in the market

The fight between a culture fit and star performers always goes on

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A high-performing culture is what organisations seek, and none are willing to settle for anything but the best. Given the competitive nature of the market, it is but natural for organisations to want to have top performers in their teams, but is it always wise to hire the top talent? Certain facts and research suggest that hiring top-performing talent or star performers from outside is not a wise thing to do at all. An HBR research, which analysed and tracked star performers across professions — research, CEOs, public relations, advertising, law, management consulting and investment banking — observes that whenever star performers move from one company to another, their performance starts to dip consistently.

“Culture fit with top performance are of equal importance for me”

Rajesh Nair, CHRO, Polycab

For example, an in depth study was conducted by the researchers on over 1000 stock analysts from across 78 investment banks in the US. The research found that 46 per cent of analysts’ overall performance dipped when they changed loyalties and further degraded year after year when they joined new firms. It was also observed that the teams at the firm they moved to also started performing poorly and the overall market value of the company started to degrade.

What causes this phenomenon? As the study involved a small group of people, it would be unfair to overgeneralise the findings, but interestingly, most of the HR leaders HRKatha spoke with, admitted to the existence of such a phenomenon and having faced it themselves in their careers.

“I have experienced such instances many a time in my previous stints with organisations,” shares Ashwin Shirali, former VP – talent & culture, Accor. He believes that cultural setting and environment are often neglected while hiring people. “The culture of the organisation has to be explained to the candidate at the time of hiring,” advises Shirali.

“It would be wrong to generalise that all star performers will start underforming if hired from outside. At the end of the day, there is a reason why a person is a top performer”

Uma Rao, VP-HR, Ashok Leyland

Even the HBR study suggests that when high performers move to different organisations they fail to replicate their excellence and productivity because their performance was majorly supported by the teams and processes of their old organisation. It is impossible for them to carry with them their whole setting from the previous organisations into their new roles.

“Before hiring anyone, checking for culture fit is of greater significance,” states Rajesh Nair, CHRO, Polycab. Nair believes that top performance and culture fit are both equally important. “I would like to hire a candidate who is culturally suitable and at the same time, a top performer,” asserts Nair.

Human resource leaders believe that hiring cultural misfits — especially at senior leadership positions — can be disastrous for the organisation. “We come across situations, where hiring a star performer, who is culturally mismatched, has led to exits of many team members. Eventually, one day the star performer also will leave and cause the entire team to collapse,” Uma Rao, VP-HR, Ashok Leyland.

What is the solution? Rather than opting for top performers who cannot complement the organisational culture, there is a need to choose people with a decent performance track record coupled with a 100 per cent culture fit. That means, going for the second best — the ‘B’ player in the market instead of the ‘A’ player.

“If I am given a choice between two candidates, I will give more priority to culture fit and not mind compromising on performance”

Pradyumna Pandey, CHRO, Mother Dairy

“If I am given a choice between two candidates, I will give more priority to culture fit and not mind compromising on performance, as culture can make or break things for any company,” says Pradyumna Pandey, CHRO, Mother Dairy. In fact, most HR leaders HRKatha interacted with, agree that they will prefer to hire a culture fit over a top performer.

Though Rao agrees that culture-fit hiring is important, she also points out that it would be wrong to generalise this phenomenon of star employees coming from outside failing to perform. According to her, more often than not, top performers continue to be top performers wherever they choose to go. “At the end of the day, there is a reason why a person is a top performer,” says Rao. She further explains that in case someone is not a culture fit, we need to rely on assessment tools to further evaluate and investigate how that person’s performance can be driven within the existing culture. “Do we such drivers, or can we create them?” Rao rightly questions even while cautioning that if we chose to hire someone from outside, we should anyway be ready for some kind of disruption in the culture.

“The culture of the organisation has to be explained to the candidate at the time of hiring”

Ashwin Shirali, former VP – Talent & Culture, Accor

Thiru A Thirunavukkarasu, CHRO, Hatsun Agro Products, admits that there is always a fight between ‘role fit’ candidates and a ‘culture fit’ candidates. He believes in maintaining a balance of 80 per cent culture fit and 20 per cent top performers who are there to shape the culture. In one of his previous organisations, ‘people management’ was a trait / skill which was an integral part of the organisational culture. However, Thirunavukkarasu still chose to keep 20 per cent of the workforce that lacked the trait and opted for high performers with a growth mindset. “Yes, one needs culture fits, but one cannot not do without people who can shape the culture and run the business either,” opines Thirunavukkarasu.

“Yes, one needs culture fits, but one cannot not do without people who can shape the culture and run the business either”

Thiru A Thirunavukkarasu, CHRO, Hatsun Agro Products

Looks like choosing the second best candidate, who is more of a culture fit, is the way to go. At the same time, however, a culturally diverse workforce is also important to shape the culture of the company. The key lies in striking a balance.

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