Forget High Performance—Hire for Meta Performance

Hiring high performers is not a goal to be aimed at but a problem to be solved for. That’s right. Across any industry, organization or title, we have a critical opportunity to recruit and screen for candidates who will accomplish more within the company than most leaders have come to expect.

Most employees hire for performance. They ask the question: “Can this employee do what we’re asking them to do?”

A few employers hire for high performance; people who want to be excellent at their job.

But hardly any employers hire for meta performance.

Hiring for high performance causes a lot of problems. This is typically when you hire divas who have made demands for any variety of reasons. Or you hire that overpaid person who doesn’t end up delivering or the person who is great for a while but ends up causing problems down the road.

Recently our company hired someone who was one of the best in the world at what they did. They had worked at an amazing organization and were highly successful in what we were asking them to do. For a short time, they did really well. And I loved it.

But, here’s the problem if you do really well: Because of your success, your role changes. Because of your success, an organization needs more from you. Because of your success, you’ll have to grow in order to stay in that same role.

High performers don’t like to grow. They don’t like to change. They like promotions—but that’s not the same thing as growing. They’re high performers. They like to do what they already do well and get well paid for it. This creates resistance, or worse, resentment toward growth.

So how do you screen for a meta performance mindset in the hiring process?

Here are four questions we ask during screening and while training for meta performance:

1) What’s your vision for how you’re going to go above and beyond what we’re asking of you in this current role? Notice if they get excited or if they become confused or defensive.

2) In what way do you think you’ll need to grow in order to stay with us in this current role a year from now? With this question it’s okay to let them wrestle with it—this is testing for how they think creatively about their own growth.

3) What’s your plan for making sure that you grow in that specific way? Same with this question—watch how they think about their own development. It’s okay if they ask for help if they don’t know.

4) How did you grow in your ability to add value in your last job? Don’t listen for promotions or responsibilities—listen for how they grew in their skills, mindset and character.

These four questions begin to invite a leader into a different way of thinking than most people when they’re applying for a job or how they look at a job in general. Beyond helping to bring in the right talent, adopting this approach internally through development and coaching can begin to shift and challenge an existing team.

When we utilized this development approach with an international manufacturing company based out of Detroit, the results were shocking. The SVP managing the team of engineers we worked with flew back to Japan to report, “We just accomplished more in one year than we usually do in three.” Not every engineer was excited about the shift towards meta performance, but imagine if they were. Imagine if meta performance wasn’t just something that was trained for but something you hired for and promoted for at the start.

The final and most important piece of hiring meta performers is to make sure you’re a meta performer yourself. If you can’t answer the above questions with specific, intentional and recent examples, you won’t find meta performers to hire—not because they’re not out there, but because they won’t want to work for someone who doesn’t model what they hire for. Too often leaders want a character in their teams that they don’t have themselves. There’s not a hiring practice in the world that can (or should) compensate for that. But once you get clear on where you’re intentionally growing yourself (not just how you want the company or team to grow) and have present stories of risk and failure and growth, people will line up to follow you, and you’ll begin to attract meta performers.

As you begin to create a growth culture and you hire and train for meta performance, your team will begin to get more done in less time with increased satisfaction. You’ll decrease the drama of high performing cultures and invite high performers into the next stage of their development.

The reality is that high performers are no happier in their jobs than performers or low performers. That’s because satisfaction comes with growth, not simply with success. Create a culture that is thrilled by growth more than success and you’ll end up more successful.


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