I keep reading that the big tech companies, most notably Google and Facebook, are finding that job performance isn’t highly correlated to an employee’s college grades or even the reputation of the school attended. And I also understand that tech companies are less inclined to ask interview questions such as “Why are manhole covers round?” Apparently the answers to those questions don’t predict future employee success.
So now Google and Facebook and perhaps others are using secret new methods of collecting information on the Internet to identify great candidates they can poach from other companies.
BEEP BEEP BEEP
Sorry, my bullshit detector just went off.
I think what is really going on is that employee success in the tech industry is most correlated with luck. But if you work in Human Resources, and your job involves identifying good employees before they do something great, you need some sort of flavorful bullshit to make it seem as if there is science to what you do. Whenever I hear that someone has a secret algorithm, or they discovered something while data mining, I get highly suspicious.
In my experience, people who managed to get good grades from prestigious schools are indeed far more effective than people who didn’t. I expect a Stanford grad to do be smarter and more effective than a Chico State grad at least 80% of the time.
But there have also been studies showing that the worst kind of work group is one that has too many smart people. Ideally, you want one smart person and several competent followers on a team, or so the studies suggest. So it doesn’t surprise me that Google or Facebook could be hiring geniuses and experiencing project gridlock as the brainiacs stand around arguing. So that might be the problem.
I wonder how anyone can identify a great employee working for another company when that employee has only worked on teams. Often it is the team dynamic, the timing of the project, the chemistry of the group, the effectiveness of management, and a hundred other factors that create success. Most of it looks like luck.
I can see how a “Moneyball” approach works in the limited case of baseball. A batter is a member of a team, but the team has little influence on how he hits. A player’s batting average is all about his own skill. But how do you evaluate, for example, an employee whose every move is part of a larger collaborative effort? You can’t moneyball that.
I think the secret sauce that makes some groups successful is the chemistry of the team, along with luck, of course. And, as I mentioned, good team chemistry might mean having one smart person and several followers. The problem is implementing that system. Could a manager really get away with organizing teams by brightness level? “Okay, team. Susan is the smart one and the rest of you are … the other ones. Go do something awesome.”