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Stop Looking for the Best Employees

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Progressive organizations and their HR people spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to attract "the best" employees.

Here's the secret: you can't.

I've been in HR circles long enough to know that perfect people don't exist. Despite anything you've heard about the algorithm for the optimal hire, such an employee is fiction. The not-so-secret reality is that there's no such thing as the "best" talent. There are only good people who have the potential to become great employees. It's your job to help them deliver.

So what are some of the other common misconceptions about assembling a great team?

Only hire people who can step effortlessly into the job: There are always stories about companies or industries that only want to hire the most renowned people who have lots of years in the field and who are 100 percent ready to effortlessly assume duties. Bad idea. That approach ignores a huge swath of up-and-comers. It also leads to artificially created employee shortages and puts considerable pressure on existing employees to fill in the gaps -- meaning everybody's unhappy. Find people with skills, smarts, and drive, and then enable and inspire them to rise to the top.

Never look inside for your top people: There's an inspiration killer... "We never promote from within," often followed by "because it removes people from the jobs they're good at." People need to learn and grow to stay inspired. Without a template illustrating how careers can progress, you're all but guaranteeing a revolving door. Got jobs to fill? Make sure to be mindful of the talent under your own roof. Invest in building it and mine it regularly.

Hire as if only "A" players matter: We all know the "A" players -- they're the people we hire with the greatest expectations. "A" players are great, but "B" and "C" players can become great. The latter can be mighty dedicated and industrious. They're also unusually scrappy and willing to jump in and creatively problem solve when the occasion calls for it. And people given the opportunity and inspiration to grow into a position feel invested in the company in extremely meaningful ways.

Don't worry about employee recognition... raises and new titles are plenty: A lot of bosses make the mistake of thinking job performance is all about money. It's not. Appreciation counts, too. "Isn't a raise appreciation?" you might ask. Sort of. But it's expected. Recognition from a supervisor or a manager, on the other hand, shows added value. Company-wide recognition via employee awards illustrates worth on a larger, public scale. Neither can be underestimated. At Bright Horizons, we've taken it a step further and included awards employees can nominate each other for. Winning then becomes something everyone is invested in, and that in turn generates something else you can't put a price on -- team spirit.

Personal lives have no place in the workplace: That would be true...if people were machines. But they're not. Studies, like this one from the American Psychological Association, show that people are interested in more from their places of employment than just money. And they want more from their lives than just work. And they're making their voices heard, to the point that, according to this New York Times blog, both men and women are beginning to dial back their desires for career growth. And what do you suppose that will mean for employers? On a simpler scale, when you truly support your people, they like you more. And that translates into performance. Organizations that recognize their employees' personal lives and challenges are the ones who are not only going to thrive in the present, they're also going to be around for the long haul.

So forget searching for that elusive, perfect, impossible-to-locate top performer. You need to go back before the recruitment, before the hire, to the culture, policies, and practices within your four walls. Because the truth is, when it comes to hiring, the best you can hope for is to attract the best potential talent. What happens from there is up to you.