In Arkansas, the Pulaski Academy football team never punts. They always go for it on 4th down and usually, they convert. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom when it comes to football. The cardinal rule is if you are stopped on third down you almost certainly punt the ball. There is just too much risk in playing with your back to the goalposts. But that also flies in the face of football wisdom. You see, if a team can keep the ball and continue to drive then that team is more likely to score because they are on the field. You can’t score if you don’t have the ball.
And this method has paid off. To date Pulaski Academy has won six Arkansas high school football championships and three in a row. They not only beat other teams they tend to pour it on and bury teams in their path. So why don’t coaches go for it more often on 4th down? Well the answer is simple, if you go and fail then embarrassment and a possible loss looms large. And in the cut throat world of football coaching having a job is better than not having a job. But not punting has so much upside. So there in lies the issue.
So how does the NFL respond? By building offenses that barely go for more than five yards at a clip and make the came conservatively boring. I bring this up because I think many companies and certainly higher education suffers from much the same issue as football coaches. Despite their best ideas and interests there is precious little evidence that businesses look for and attract talent based on risk. They are always going to look for the conservative and safe choice.
According to Forbes more and more hiring officials are settling on the “safe bet” candidate for two reasons;
- The Safe Bet is less likely to embarrass the organization or make decisions that will cost the company time, money, or market share.
- The Safe Bet is less likely to be held up to scrutiny.
There is a 2A as well, the Safe Bet is also likely to not be perceived as a threat to the hiring official. However, there could be one other reason. According to the Harvard Business School many Safe Bet, under-qualified, and less exciting candidates are hired not because of the potential they show but the record they bring. Seems obvious right? I have been successful for years in other roles that makes me a shoo in for this new role. Nothing can be further from the truth. When we are hiring it is important to remember that we are hiring for the future not the past and that hiring should be based on what and how the new employee can do moving forward. Is that candidate suited for the job, do they bring the right skills and ambitions, have we made the right “attribution” decision.
One of the biggest mistakes made by HR departments and search committees is they make many “attribution errors” or errors in judgement based on the false positives that one success will lead to that success even if there is no proof that one connects to the other. And that is because many candidates suffer from inflated self-assessment and a poorly vetted career history. Finally, the wrongly attributed applicant casts a shadow on other, better qualified, applicants.
So what is a hiring officer to do to avoid the wrong candidate. The Harvard Business School suggest firms invest in interviews where potential workers are exposed to the company culture, is asked to review and weigh in on issues both positive and negative that affect the university. To complete a number of case studies wherein the candidates base knowledge of the organization, the task at hand, and the skills they will deploy are observed and cataloged. These role play situations can also check on soft skills and personal interactions. This insight can give us way more data on a potential hire and allow you to move beyond the safe bet and look for the super star.
But there needs to be a commitment to this process. Honestly, hiring a rock star has some risk. No one wants to hire someone who will one day pass them up for promotions and opportunity but that is a risk one should take. Because at the end of the day only the NFL teams with the super stars like Tim Brady and Aaron Rodgers are going to and winning the Super Bowl. By making the more energized choice you up your odds of winning, Just like Pulaski Academy.