Hiring Wisely: Don't Forget That Everyone Is Replaceable


The last recording by the late, great George Harrison to hit the UK pop charts was written about advice that most of us have been confronted with at one time or another: "If you don't know where you're going, any road can take you there."

I thought about this while reading some advice that Lloyd Carney, the CEO of data and network storage firm Brocade, had for new college graduates. Here's what he told Adam Bryant in his latest The New York Times‘ Corner Office column:

You’ve got to always have a plan. If you don’t have a plan, then any road will take you there. You’ve got to be flexible to change your plan. Facts change, and circumstances change. But you’ve got to have a plan to help you think through trade-offs and choices."

Everybody is replaceable

That's pretty solid advice for anyone, whether you're hearing it from a CEO like Lloyd Carney or a former Beatle like George Harrison. And, it's one of the things that makes the insights of CEO so valuable: great advice on how to hire, get hired, and building a career.

What makes Lloyd's advice so powerful is that both his father and grandfather were entrepreneurs when he was growing up in Jamaica and watching them up close. In fact, he remembers a great deal of what his grandfather told him about business, and it's old-school advice that still resonates today.

Here's some advice his grandfather taught him about the people who work for you -- your employees, your workforce:

(My grandfather) used to say all the time that everybody is replaceable. He used to do this thing called a bucket test. He would be arguing with one of his employees, and he’d call me in and say, “Get a bucket of water.” So I’d bring the bucket of water to the room, and he’d say, “Lloydie, put your hand in the water.” Then I’d take it out, and he’d say to his employee, “See that hole that Lloyd left in the water? That’s the hole you’re going to leave when you leave here.”

The guy was usually trying to get some big salary, trying to explain how invaluable and important he was. Once every eight months or so, my grandfather would call for the bucket of water. So I have a pretty high bar for calling someone irreplaceable. If I hear that, I’ll say, “Why? Is it Steve Jobs? Is it Einstein?” Everybody’s replaceable."

What did you learn from a tough experience?

That's great advice for anyone managing talent, but particularly for those in recruiting and hiring. Yes, no matter how hard it is to see a high-performing employee walk out the door, there are always others out there you can find who can step in and take there place, everybody really is replaceable, and it is something you should never, ever forget.

As for Lloyd Carney's advice on hiring, it's not terribly surprising what he likes to ask, but it is very old-school as well. Here's what he said when asked, "How do you hire?"

I always ask about the thing you’re most proud of and the thing you’re least proud of, and sometimes it could be a four-part question, because they’ll give something personal and professional for each of them. I’m listening for whether they talk about their accomplishments with “I, I, I,” or what their team was able to do.

And I want to know what you failed at, or you had a really tough time with. What did you learn from it? How did you grow from that experience?"

Taking advice from where you can find it

My take: It's that last bit that interests me, because my view is that you learn the most when things go wrong -- when you have a failure. Not only do you learn more, but the lesson has deeper impact and resonates differently. Ask just about anyone who has had success at something, and I think you'll find that it was the failures they learned from that did the most to fuel their success.

You'll find that this principle of "learning from failure" particularly resonates with hiring. The more you learn from your hires and how they perform, both the good and the bad, the better your hires will be in the future.

It always helps if you have great advice from a father or grandfather to follow, like Lloyd Carney did, but I am of the opinion you take your advice from where you can find it -- even if it's someplace like here on the Talent Insider blog.

Editor’s note: Checkster, the parent company of Talent Insider blog, can help you find out a lot more about job candidates with the Reference Checkup tool, and can help you better evaluate candidates and compare what your interviewers learn with the Interview Checkup.