The One Movie Line That Will Change Your Approach to Finding and Keeping Talent

It was the end-of-season talent show at the Kellerman’s resort. Johnny Castle (played by Patrick Swayze), the resort’s dance instructor and Frances “Baby” Houseman’s crush (played by Jennifer Grey), recently got fired by the resort for having a relationship with Baby. With a desire to complete the last dance of the season (and love on his mind), Johnny comes back to the resort just when the closing song is being played at the show. He walks up to where Baby is sitting and says…

Something famous. But that’s not the line in question!

That honor goes to the heart of what it means to have a great team at your company. Think about times where you were (or are) at a company that had an awesome team. What was great about that team? Was it how talented they were? How easy it was to get along with them, or work with them? Was it how selfless each member of the team was, or how each of them was quick to give credit where it was due or take blame for something that went wrong?

I don’t mean to dirty dance around it, but if you answered yes to any of the above questions, chances are that your day-to-day work is pretty sweet. The reasons why follow the philosophy of one famous hockey coach.

Nearly four decades ago, a very important and prestigious hockey tournament was about to begin. The hockey coach in question needed to get ready and assemble his team to take on the best in the world at that tournament. They were considered heavy underdogs — not even people back home were giving them much of a chance to place, let alone win.

Many people didn’t believe, but Herb Brooks did. Because the tournament (the 1980 Winter Olymipics) did not allow professional athletes to take part (this in itself a point of controversy since there were disputes as to who was considered a professional), Brooks, the coach for the USA hockey team, and his staff had to choose from a pool of collegiate players. He didn’t just choose any collegiate players. In order to beat the Russians (the overwhelming favorites in the tournament), he had to assemble a special team. How did he go about doing that?

Brooks followed this simple philosophy: “I’m not looking for the best players. I’m looking for the right ones.”

You see, Brooks could have very easily just chosen the best player at each position and gone from there. However, what goes into a winning team is more than just talent. It’s about chemistry. It’s about each person on the team knowing their roles and performing them very well. It’s about synergy — the sum of the parts being greater than the whole. Using that philosophy, Brooks would assemble a team that would go on to defeat the vaunted Russians in the famous “Miracle on Ice” game in February 1980, a team who had not lost an Olympic hockey game since 1968, on the way to capturing the gold medal.

This true story, of course, was told in the 2004 movie “Miracle”. And you can learn something from the late Herb Brooks’s approach to finding talent and putting together a winning team. The “best” talent isn’t always the right fit for them or for you.

Let’s look at a couple of examples. Say you came across the resume of an excellent Project Manager to lead a software development project. She went to an Ivy League school and has some very impressive companies on her resume (Google, Amazon, and Yahoo). She has led teams of as many as 100 people, both in the United States and overseas. Great fit, right?

Hmmm…maybe, maybe not. Your company is small and has fewer than 50 employees. How will she adjust to fewer resources? Will she be comfortable doing jobs that will be “below her pay grade”? Will she be willing to wear multiple hats? Why is she even looking in the first place, or considering employment at your company? How will she fit culturally? These are the types of questions you must ask to see if there is truly a match. The answer may very well be that there is, but it can very easily be the opposite.

Let’s also say that you come across a talented Accountant. He has Big 4 experience, crushed his interviews, and appears to have the goods to be your future Controller or Director of Finance. But then you do some more digging into his background through some of your business and personal contacts and find out that he has a reputation of being a “jerk” in the office. A number of people who worked with him or under him resigned. He would have been let go a long time ago, but he’s still there due to “office politics”. He says he’s interested in your opportunity because he wants to take his career to the next level, but now you question his reasons for leaving. Would you still bring him on board?

The Accountant may be an all-star level talent, but if his reputation turns out to be true, hiring him could have a significant impact on your company’s morale and engagement, and it may end up being a net negative in the long haul. No amount of money he’s able to save for the company can make up for that.

Carlos Vazquez, currently the Global Head of Talent Acquisition – Service Delivery at Bristol Myers Squibb, was quoted in an article by Dr. Mildred Culp in May 2009 regarding his approach to finding talent. “Many times, I see talented folks who have been strong performers in previous situations, but that does not always mean they will be the best fit for our company (Newell Rubbermaid at the time). I ask myself: How will this person fit within our team? Will he or she thrive in our fast-paced environment? Can the person be an agent of change?”

Carlos understands that the answers to these questions truly determine whether or not that person you’re thinking of hiring is the right fit, and not just the best performer. And sometimes, the best person is the right person, which makes the questions you ask incredibly important to reach that determination. If you take that approach, your retention rates will go up, engagement will also climb, and your company will be better off in many ways, including financially, because of it.

Think of it like dating. Are you looking for the best person in terms of the most attractive person you can find, or one with the most money, or the most charming? Or are you looking for the right person for you in terms of the things you find most valuable in a person (which can be completely different from the next person)? It’s almost the same thing that employers and candidates must decide before each of them jumps into a long-term working relationship. Is this the right person/company for me? Interviewing is the most crucial component to determining a match, and candidates must interview the employers just as much as the other way around to find that answer.

So next time you’re in a position to hire an all-star team, take the Herb Brooks approach and find the right person, and not just the best person. If you do that, you’re almost guaranteed not to put Baby in a corner.