Archive for the ‘opposites attract’ Category

The “great-people-attract-more-great-people” fallacy

November 16, 2007

Advocates of the talent mind-set emphasize that, if you bring into an organization great people, they will attract and bring in more great people. This argument is especially dear to consultants and executives who recommend that employees be sorted into:

  1. star “A’s,”
  2. ho-hum but acceptable “B’s,” and
  3. “C’s” who need to shape up or ship out.

Bradford Smart contends, based on over 100 consulting engagements, that “in practice, A players hire other A players. B players hire C players. C players hire F players. If you can woo a small critical mass of A players, you can start a favorable chain reaction and build a strong company.” Smart’s book Topgrading emphasizes that the “fact” that “C players don’t hire A players” is the biggest single hurtle to building a company filled with A players.

Despite claims in Topgrading and numerous other books on hiring the best people, the talent mind-set is rooted in a set of assumptions and empirical evidence that are incomplete, misleading, and downright wrong. The only rigorous research on this topic is the similar-to-me effect. Study after study shows that birds of a feather flock together, not that opposites attract. This similar-to-me effect helps explain why most organizations unwittingly “bring in the clones.” Male interviewers prefer hiring males, white interviewers prefer white candidates to black and Hispanics, and so on. The only hard evidence available indicates that A players will hire people like themselves. There is no evidence that those people that are hired will also be A players.

Hard Facts by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton