Hire for complements, not compliments

You hear people talk about a “stuck at the airport” rule for hiring. The idea is that when you have a difficult choice between two candidates (employees, vendors, clients, etc.), choose the one that you would rather be stuck at the airport with, because…well, you might someday be.

Making a choice because you think you’d get along with one person over another is a nice heuristic for choosing between mostly similar candidates. Getting along with people you work with is not something to take lightly. However, it’s tempting to stretch this rule beyond its limits — to use it not as a tie breaker, but as a reason for moving ahead in the first place. Worse yet, it can lead to a mindset where “getting along” by reducing friction is the primary goal over bringing real value to a business. Estimating how well you’ll get along with someone isn’t easily measured, and typically is only based on how agreeable the person has been in your encounters so far. This can be a trap.

Getting along with coworkers, subordinates, or vendors is generally good. But it’s a skill, and really shouldn’t depend on how agreeable someone is. When we choose people solely — or primarily — based on sharing the same opinions, viewpoints, work ethics, etc., it’s a dangerous definition of a “good fit.” Real value occurs when ideas are challenged. Not for the sake of being difficult, but because someone sees a problem differently and rounds out rough edges, or sharpens others. Fostering this type of environment, and intentionally surrounding yourself with people that are different than you, helps to ensure that you won’t get stuck in an avoidable, harmful mindset or business rut.

Whether you’re a business owner or managing a team, the goal for hiring should always be to hire into a need you have. Most of the time, the most glaring need you have is in an area in which you’re naturally deficient. Therefore, the person you most need usually possesses a complementary skill to something you are not good at. If you hire someone whose temperament, demeanor, and work style closely resembles your own, it’s very likely you share many of the same strengths and conversely the same weaknesses.