Is It “What” or “Who” You Hire?

Young woman shaking hands with a candidate

For virtually any business, being fully staffed is a key to success. Customers will not wait or accept being underserved simply because you are understaffed. Staffing is one of the most critical, difficult and frustrating challenges faced by managers, especially if your goal is to have quality employees. You know you are on the downside of this situation when you have anxious moments wondering whether employees will show up, or if the ones who do will perform their jobs to your standards.

Anxious moments such as these are why many hiring mangers take a warm body approach to hiring. In effect, they assume they are in a “high turnover” business (e.g., restaurants, healthcare, retail), but that is not the problem. The problem is retention of quality employees. A lowered hiring standard means a lowered customer experience. Being the first choice of your customers demands employees who perform, fit your culture, and stay.

"What" Comes Before "Who"

Hiring and retaining quality employees requires you to think in terms of “What” over “Who”. The “what” of hiring is as simple as it is profound: What you are hiring is your customer experience! What you are hiring is your culture! These points are easy to see in an industry where the single most important source of competitive differentiation is employee quality. In these situations, employees are the faces, hearts, and hands of the company’s consumer brand.

Using an effective employee hiring process significantly increasing the chances that your customers will have the experience that you intend for them to have. The challenge is to build a staffing system that enables you to attract and retain the right kinds of people.


Many managers believe they can spot a good hire; someone who will do the job of earning the loyalty of customers. They reach this conclusion despite the evidence of high employee turnover and an inconsistent customer experience. The research shows that the vast majority of managers could just as effectively pick the right people if they flipped a coin than if they applied their personal magic to identifying winners. In short, managers are typically long on confidence when it comes to hiring and short on competence.

Effective pre-employment assessments specifically designed with both your employee and customer experiences in mind, significantly improve the odds of a successful hire. First, they increase the chances that new hires will deliver the intended customer experience—the one that characterizes the brand you want to be. Second, they increase the chances that your new hires will stay and prosper with your company.

This second reason gets at the real challenge of hiring: identifying people who fit your company’s culture. These are employees who are aware of what you are trying to accomplish with your customers, fully engaged in what they are doing, and have a “can do, you bet I will” attitude. When you hire employees who share your values—we call it fit—you are taking a step toward strengthening your company’s culture and, thereby, the quality of your customer experience. And that is why “what” you hire is every bit as important as “who” you hire.

Next Steps

Using structured, legally-defensible tools such as hiring assessments and structured interviews increases hiring managers’ confidence in hiring the right people.  Check out our eBook on the what, why, and when of hiring assessments to learn more.

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