The Binary Fit Fallacy: why new hires that are a good fit are a problem & Magic Questions for motivating your team
30 October 2022 Newsletter
If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against. The struggle between “for” and “against” is the mind’s worst disease.
– Sent-ts’an, c. 700 AD
Hope you’re Thriving!
It’s been an exciting week with a quarterly planning workshop, some meetings, the official launch of the new book Onboarded and a trip to Sydney to speak about Onboarded. Seeing the book creating so much positive impact and usefulness for people has been fantastic.
This week I came across a fascinating quote from Steve Jobs about A players – a term we use for high-performing employees.
“Steve Jobs popularised the term A player. But here’s what Steve Jobs said about his coach and mentor Bill Campbell: “Bill can get A performances out of B players”. Rusing to mark them as A player or B player right from the start is very limiting for them, the leader and the team.”
And this is precisely what I talk about in the new book Onboarded, how labelling employees as A players can change our mindset toward them and limit us from doing the critical work of growing our people!
Read more in the excerpt below about the binary fit fallacy – and also in this week’s podcast (detailed below).
The Binary Fit Fallacy
Continuing excerpts from my new book Onboarded which is due for release on the first of November, here’s a snippet about a binary and spectrum mindset.
You may remember a few weeks ago I discussed good vs bad fit, and how thinking about new hires in this manner means that you don’t actually know why it worked or didn’t, and that this is the recipe to accrue onboarding debt.
Here’s the excerpt:
Onboarding is the process of taking someone from outside your organisation and making them a productive, independent, and confident member of your team who understands the culture, the technical and process expectations, and your expectations as their manager. That definition results in a successful fit or an unsuccessful fit. It doesn’t result in a good or bad fit.
Fit is not binary.
Fit is a spectrum.
When we think about fit as being binary – that a recent hire will not work out if they’re not the right person – we are indoctrinating our teams with the tyranny of low expectations.
A binary fit mindset advocates that it is pointless to follow an onboarding process and give new hires a better understanding of the organisation – they’ll either fit due to who they are, or they won’t. We’re saying that once the employment contract is signed, there is nothing we can do to increase the new hire’s chance of success in their role. If the person is a bad fit, it’s on them, and we’re not responsible.
The worst part about this is that it excuses poor onboarding practises because the manager has an excuse already prepared – the person just “wasn’t a good fit.” This excuse allows managers to shirk responsibility for spending time with their new hires.
You might hear leaders saying things like, “We’ve had such a bad run with hiring people,” or “We’re so unlucky with hiring,” or “There are no decent candidates in our industry or geography or market.”
It’s like they’re caught in a vicious loop where they say to themselves, “That former employee was a bad fit; any time spent with them would have been a complete waste. Therefore, we should not spend time with this other new hire in case they too are a bad fit because that would also be wasted time. Anyway, if they are going to work out well, we shouldn’t need to spend time with them because they are a good fit.”
To think that a person is a pre-determined good or bad fit is to discount the importance of the onboarding process and its purpose: to make your new hire a productive, independent, and confident member of your team or to confidently validate their exit.
To break this binary fit loop, instead of thinking about people as a good fit or a bad fit, which implies their success is entirely out of your control, I recommend using the phrases successful fit and unsuccessful fit. These phrases indicate that your onboarding process has validated whether the person is a successful fit. This represents a spectrum mindset.
The image below illustrates the distinction between the binary mindset and the spectrum mindset. The binary mindset thinks that a bad fit definitely won’t work and that a good fit definitely will work. On the other hand, with a spectrum mindset, all recent hires are on the spectrum between definitely will work through to definitely won’t work. The onboarding process validates whether they are a successful or an unsuccessful fit.
Between contract signing and completing the onboarding process, a person must have the status of potential fit. After the onboarding process, their status changes to “successful fit,” or they exit with the status of an “unsuccessful fit.”
Motivating Your Team – Magic Questions
Matt Mochary is a silicon Valley-based coach who works with CEO and execs to motivate their teams. This week I came across Matt’s 5 “Magic Questions” that he uses, which are so effective that they feel like “magic”.
The magic in these questions is that they immediately get below the surface.
All of the questions use a simple follow-up and are based on the following scale:
1 – It couldn’t be any worse
3 – Meeting expectations
5 – It couldn’t be any better
When asking these questions, you show your team:
1) You want them to get to their highest level of potential
2) They have great ideas about how to get there
3) You care about them
Here are the questions and why they work:
HOW ARE YOU FEELING ABOUT YOUR LIFE AT WORK?
Why this works: This question makes them feel seen and heard as people, not employees. As a leader, you also get critical context on how to support them at work.
HOW ARE YOU FEELING ABOUT YOUR WORK-FROM-HOME SET UP?
Why this works: If you are even partially remote, this helps you understand if there are any productivity blockers. In addition, you’ll find out if any inexpensive items could make a difference.
HOW ARE WE PERFORMING AS A COMPANY?
Why this works: You get an assessment of company performance against THEIR expectations. Their ideas about how the company could do better enters the conversation.
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO WORK WITH THE REST OF THE TEAM?
Why this works: The day-to-day of what it feels like to be on your team gets a chance to be expressed. As a result, the good and bad of team dynamics get the attention it deserves.
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO WORK WITH ME?
Why this works: Most managers don’t know what it feels like to report to them. So you get direct feedback about what it is like to be in their shoes to work with you.
After each of these questions, it’s critical to ask: “What would get it to the next level?” (Using the -5 scale above).
Most people have great ideas on how to improve things when asked in a structured way.
Watch the short video of Matt explaining the benefit of the questions here.
The Growth Whisperers Podcast
Why new hires that are a good fit are a problem (2 of 4)
Many people refer to a person as a good fit (they are still here) or a bad fit (they left). This creates a mindset problem when we think about new hires. We can then think that new hires are pre-determined to be a good or bad fit, and it’s outside our control. And worse, any effort to make them fit is a wasted effort. Because this mindset tells us there’s no point in spending time if someone is a bad fit.
Hiring can be viewed as a “deal done”. We can consider that a good hiring process will produce a good fit, and if they are a good fit, and we spend minimal time with them, they will still be OK – because they’re a good fit. But fit is not binary, fit is a spectrum.
We talk about Brad’s new book Onboarded and the problem with the phrase ‘good fit’ and why instead we should use the phrase ‘successful fit’.
Listen to The Growth Whisperers
Or watch it on YouTube
If you would like to receive our weekly newsletter as an email, simply complete the “subscribe to my newsletter” form at the top of this page.