DIRECTOR’S CUT: Holding Out For A Hero

How does one hire for Onlyness and still get the box filled?

Q: Most companies don’t hire for Onlyness. Just the opposite. Hiring is about finding a match to a checklist, finding the best person to put into that specific box. So even though I personally want to be valued for my Onlyness and find a place where I can really shine (editor’s note: like Pushing did), I find it HAAARRRDD (if not impossible) to think of how to look for Onlyness as I hire people. Yes, I want people who will bring their best ideas and unique perspectives, but I also need a specific set of things to be done a certain way with a specific outcome. After all, that’s what is driving me to hire someone: immediate urgent needs. And, of course, it’s not precisely my call. Hiring is done by a committee where I certainly shape the process, but I have to get a lot of people to buy-in, and ultimately, I have to defend my choice.

Dear Defender

Oh, so much to unpack. 

I was recently reading wisdom from the Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön, and one sentence hit me hard: “Many of us prefer practices that will not cause discomfort, yet at the same time, we want to be healed.” 

The seeming dichotomy is also the answer. Or the path towards answers. For a fulfilling life. And workplaces that honor Onlyness.

We each want to be valued. But we don’t always know how to value one another. 

So let’s learn how.

I hear you asking not one question but three. So let me parse each so I can address each one with some practical ideas.

  1. How do you hire based on Onlyness? 
  2. How do you square the circle by finding someone who can do what you ask and ALSO be open to whatever newness someone can bring? 
  3. How do you shape a committee hiring process for Onlyness? 


So how do you hire based on Onlyness?

Most companies eliminate perfectly good candidates. You might remember I already wrote that in an HBR piece?  It gets to your point about how companies try to fit people into boxes when no one wants to be boxed in.

The piece shares a remarkable bit of new research at the time: How 75% of perfectly qualified candidates don’t make it through the primary screening tool (the applicant tracking systems) used by corporations. Not that they aren’t qualified; they absolutely are. 

As the hiring manager, you could take a look at some of the candidates that are rejected. (For example, a colleague shared that when her team was hiring for a website manager role, they found out the ATS had omitted a candidate with just one year less experience than they wanted, but everything else was *exactly* what they wanted.) 

Recognize that you shape the lens and filters to spot talent (vs. filter it out).

And, once you’re in the process of interviewing, stop asking people to sell themselves and instead ask people to share themselves. 

The way you do this is to ask people to discuss their capabilities, not their credentials. Instead of asking, “Tell me when you’ve done x or y or z?” which invites people to sell the past, you want to reframe by saying, “How would you approach doing x or y or z?” 

And, this applies to you, too. Instead of selling your team or job, or company, you might share your actual present-day challenges and ask, “how might we work on that…together?” 

You learn more about one’s ability to add value by letting them add value. 


Second, you talk about having immediate needs, and so you need someone to do that work. 

Of course, you do. 

But let’s flip this scene. When you go, try and get a new job. Is your greatest ambition to underdeliver? No ducking way. You want to jump in and add value. You want to outperform expectations cause that’s ALIVENESS. Each of us wants to add our bit of value. Duh. 

But when it comes to our organizational processes, we almost always assume the worst. Yes, there are sociopaths and those people who overestimate how capable they are. But MOST people—like 90% of all people—want to join your team to create value. Orgs design the process as if crazy is the norm. But it just makes us all crazy.

By expecting the worst of folks, you’re managing the process to reduce risk. Stop that. Instead, start noticing what each person could bring to the role. Many people can be a “good fit,” but in interesting and different ways. That’s the joy, the beauty, the new of it all. There is no one perfect way to do a job. There are many. 

So again, don’t filter out, but in. 

This means, by the way, you’ve gotta be able to answer tough questions. Garry Turner (who co-runs the Column Club on being Fully Alive@Work) shared with me some questions generated in their discussion that seekers can use to do a values match: 

  • How do I establish if this is a learning environment? Can I make mistakes?
  • How do I evaluate the ethical morality and values of the CEO? 
  • What is the level of self-awareness of leadership and exec team? 
  • How do I assess the open-mindedness of the exec team? 
  • What is one thing you could change today if you could? 

Just imagine getting asked any of those. 

What might you say? You don’t need to have a “right” answer, but can you be open, ready to face the inherent tensions of being fully alive@work?

You need to be. 

Conflict is at the root of life. If a plant doesn’t push through the earth, it never reaches the light. In relationships, if people don’t discuss what is getting between them, there is no intimacy. In business, when a conflict is avoided, the company can’t live up to its ideals. 

Engage the tensions with curiosity, don’t evade them. 


And finally, you talk about how you’re not in charge; a committee is. But a committee is made up of peeps, no? 

Peeps—coming full loop as to how we started this exchange—who wants to add value and be valued, right? Let’s ask them to center Onlyness. 

Have you spent time sharing why each person was picked to serve on the committee? 

  • To one member, you might say, “Hey, you seem gifted at sussing out skills.” 
  • To another, how good they are at enrolling people to bring their best effort.
  • And you could point out who is good at getting people to reveal themselves.

If you did that, you’d be modeling the Onlyness construct. Saying, it’s not just about the jobs and titles we occupy, but how each of us brings something so distinctly valuable to the search committee work. 

And you could go one step further and kick off the hiring process with a team exercise where each person names for themselves the unexpected capacities they bring to their roles, ones that were not originally part of the checklist. To see and notice and celebrate what allows someone to shine: Onlyness. 

And then work together to craft the hiring process, so it DOES center Onlyness. 

We can hold out for a hero, Defender, or be the ones we’ve been waiting for. We keep looking for the world of work to change, to heal itself. But the way things change for the better? By doing the work. Of you, Being. Fully alive. At work.

(and…one of the cheesiest dated videos of all time, but still, it was the song that came to mind when processing your question.)

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