Daily Briefing Blog

Google's 'most important rule' for hiring people—and what health care can learn from it


Dan Diamond, Executive Editor

Every year, about 3,000,000 people apply to work at Google.

Only 7,000—just 0.2%—get the chance.

Google's hiring process has been much scrutinized, across all industries; we've written about it a few times in the Daily Briefing.

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But for all of the focus on Google's brainteasers, Max Nisen writes at Quartz, "the most important rule it follows is remarkably simple: to never once compromise on a high hiring bar."

Nisen cites a speech by Laszlo Bock, Google's hiring chief. According to Bock,

    The number one thing [we learned] was to have an incredibly high bar for talent and never compromise. [Google's founders] Larry and Sergei figured out early on that there’s a reversion to the mean when you don’t.

    Let’s say you hire a great person, they’ll hire someone almost as good, who hires someone almost as good, and over time you’re just hiring average people.

Nisen also highlights an interview that former Google product head Jonathan Rosenberg did with the Harvard Business Review, which touches on similar themes. According to Rosenberg, "what happens is people lose their focus on the absolute value of the talent, and they often get sidetracked with things like the urgency of a role. And as soon as you start allowing your teams to do that, then you start hiring people who are just below the current bar." 

"And then you create the negative dynamic of what we had called in the book 'the herd effect'” right? As soon as you let an A hire a B, that B’s going to hire a C, because B’s are threatened by A’s," Rosenberg added. "So you’ve gotta start from the beginning and make sure that you just have A’s who hire A’s."

Does it work in health care?

Google's all-encompassing focus on talent is an interesting, important lesson. It's played a key role in helping the company consistently be named the nation's Best Place to Work.

But again, Google gets millions of applications for just a few thousand jobs; their HR managers get to pick the cream of the crop.

Would Google's rule work in health care—where leaving a job open for weeks or months doesn't just feel like a life-or-death issue, but actually might be?

I reached out to the Advisory Board's experts in workforce and engagement strategy, and we kicked this around.

Takeaway #1: Google's right—don't rush.

The experts agreed that Google's onto something. Rapid hiring decisions don't just lead to mediocre talent; they can be demoralizing for an organization's high performers, too.

"I just spoke with an organization that's struggling with vacancies, yet their managers gave me the feedback that they feel pressured to fill the roles too quickly and are getting less than ideal hires, as a result," Sarah Strumwasser told me. (Strumwasser helps lead the Advisory Board Survey Solutions team.)

"It not only creates turnover and the delivery of poorer quality, but a lot more work for their high-performing and tenured staff," she added. "Many of them ultimately end up leaving because they are frustrated by this." 


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Takeaway #2: But Google's world is quite different.

It's worth repeating: Google gets to pick through thousands of candidates to find the right fit. 

Given regional dynamics and role-specific vacancies, some hospitals and health systems might end up choosing between a handful of candidates for a certain job, if that.

And one other challenge: Google's definition of a "top performer" may be very different from how a health care organization would think about it.

"In my mind, the hard work is figuring out what makes someone an 'A.'," Jennifer Stewart pointed out. (Stewart oversees the Advisory Board's workforce research.) "Is it their technical skill, a softer 'competency' like critical thinking, service orientation, or leadership?" 

 "It could be overly simplistic to just have 'As hire As'—since we know people tend to hire people who are similar to them," Stewart added. "That could mean a leader [might be tempted to] hire someone with leadership skills, when they really need someone with the ability to motivate their peers through technical excellence."

Takeaway #3: Hospitals can do a version of this.

Anne Terry and Shubhang Dave, chiming in from the Advisory Board Survey Solutions team, pointed out that at least one health system is trying a version of Google's strategy: Hospital Sisters Health System has potential hires meet with each hospital's CEO for a final decision.

While CEOs are notoriously busy, Dave says Hospital Sisters Health System found that it wasn't difficult to get them to spare the time. "All it takes is asking if they can spare 10 minutes to avoid the $40,000 it costs to deal with an FTE who turns over," Dave said.

"Part of the value is the signal value of the CEO investing that time in each employee," Terry added. "But a big part of the value is it makes managers think very hard about who they pass on."

Takeaway #4: Frontline managers will short-term sacrifice for long-term benefit.

"I don’t think health care always has the luxury to sit on a vacancy and wait for the perfect hire," Strumwasser said. "But it obviously does more harm than good to rush into hiring someone too quickly just to fill a role." 

"The feedback I've gotten from frontline managers is they’re willing to take on a bit more work to get the right people in seat the first time."

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