Four Fundamentals of Selecting the Right People

by Michael Haberman on May 19, 2014 · 0 comments


Drucker essentialsMany people think that the nature of recruiting (or as it is called today “talent acquisition”) has changed because of the use of modern tools such as social media. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just because you look for people by using a modern set of tools does not change the fundamental and essential tenets of selecting the people you need to do the job.

Huge consequences

In the book The Essential Drucker, Peter Drucker says “Executives spend more time on managing people and making people decisions than on anything else, and they should. No other decisions are so long-lasting in their consequences or so difficult to unmake.” But, to paraphrase Drucker, they do a very bad job of it. One-third of the decisions are outright failures; one-third are mediocre at best and only one-third turn out right. If in every other decision an executive makes they had the same track record they would not hold their jobs long. The effect of bad people decisions can be expensive and long lasting on both the employee base and the customer base.

Drucker’s Basic Principles

To Drucker there were four principles of good selection. There were:

  1. First, of all the decisions an executive makes, none is as important as the decision about people. That decision determines the short-term and possible the long-term performance of the organization. So the executive needs to be committed to making the right decision.
  2. Secondly, it is the responsibility of the executive to make sure that the responsible people in organization, managers and workers alike, perform as is expected. Drucker said that is competent command and it has been known since the days of Julius Caesar.
  3. Thirdly, if an executive puts a person in a job and he or she does not perform it is the executive that made the mistake. They have no business blaming the person. The executive made the mistake.
  4. Lastly, NEVER give new people major assignments. Put newcomers in an established position where the expectations are known and help is available.

Additional principles

According to Drucker there are also a few other principles that are important to effective staffing decisions. These include:

  1. Think through the assignment. Make sure the job description is accurate and up-to-date. Insure that the assignment reflects accurate duties and responsibilities. Five year old job descriptions are useless.
  2. Secondly look at a number of candidates before deciding on one. Drucker recommends looking at a minimum of three.
  3. The third principle is what you consider about each candidate. We have a tendency to look at a person and disqualify them for their weaknesses. Drucker said that is backward thinking. You must look at their strengths. You cannot build on weakness you MUST build on strengths. So once you have decided what the primary responsibility of the assignment is find the person who has the strength to do that.
  4. The fourth principle is to do your homework. Talk with people who have worked with this person before. This may be hard to do with external candidates but it can certainly be done with internal candidates.
  5. The fifth principle is to make sure the new person really understands the job. Go back to them after a few weeks to a few months and make sure they understand what they are supposed to be doing. Make sure they understand what it is going to take to be successful. Drucker saw the failure to do this last step as one of the greatest of failures of management.

The executive’s greatest role

The selection and promotion of the right people to do necessary work is, to Drucker, the most important role an executive can play. It is also potentially the greatest failure an executive can engage in. Often the selection of people is abdicated to people who do not really have a big enough stake in this proper selection. Although the key executive may have people doing the selection and decision-making they need to make sure they have selected those people correctly because ultimately the success of the organization  relies on those choices.


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