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A leader’s most important decision: hiring

Paul Alofs is CEO and president of the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, Toronto

What is the single-most important decision any leader makes? The answer is hiring. Hiring the right people is the critical contributor to success in any organization. Hire well and do well!

Great hiring decisions drive success. Poor hiring decisions hurt financial performance, damage morale and hurt the organization in 1,000 ways.

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It sounds harsh, but my long-held experience is "hire slow and fire fast." Some organizations follow the opposite of this advice, in a rush to fill an open position, so they hire fast and when they make mistakes, they take way too long to rectify a bad hiring decision.

Look for passion

The most important factor for hiring well is: Hire for "passion first." Making passion the key factor in any hiring decision will yield a much higher success rate.

Over the past 30 years of my experience as a senior leader I have learned this: Hire for passion first, experience second and credentials third. In today's extraordinarily competitive job market, many candidates will share strong experience and impressive credentials. What sets the great candidates apart from the merely good or mediocre is the degree of authentic passion they bring to their work.

Payoff from passion

As the leader of The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, the question I'm often asked is: "How do you raise $1-billion for your cause?" The Princess Margaret launched a historic $1-billion campaign in support of personalized cancer medicine in April, 2012. This ambitious campaign was completed ahead of schedule and with great success. The No. 1 reason we were able to achieve this success was the focused and authentic passion our 72 staff members brought to their work every day.

We have a creed that captures our vision, mission and ambition for our work. It's helped us attract more than one million donors who share our passion for our cause. Without this passion from our staff and our medical team, there is no way we would have attracted the support of our donor community, or sustained it over such a long period of time.

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Get to know the candidate

Interviewing for every position requires a set of questions that uncover the true extent of an individual's passion for the position. No matter what business or type or size of organization, passion is the key ingredient to a great hire. Whether selling septic tank solutions or delivering government services or trying to raise money to conquer cancer in our lifetime, the important differentiator in a great hire is the passion of the individual for the business and the position.

There are many simple questions that allow an individual to express their passion for the position to be filled and for the organization they will serve. It's very difficult to fake passion for a position, but great care needs to be exercised in creating the right kind of questions that probe the passion for your business. It's important to take time and to let multiple people in your organization meet and interview potential candidates. While this is time consuming, it is time extremely well spent.

Capturing passion capital

Passion is an emotion, but when it is translated into a tangible asset, it becomes what I call "passion capital." Passion by itself is a worthy emotion, but the building blocks of an organization that understands how to hire for passion and to put that passion to work leads to the greatest source of sustainable competitive advantage. Passionate people are the starting point of the success and the sustainability of any organization in any business of any size. Of course, experience and credentials are vitally important, but the unique differentiator is passion.

Executives and human-resources experts share their views and advice about leadership and management in the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

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