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Re-Thinking Recruitment: The Best Possible Employee (BPE) Approach

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Recruiting the Best Possible Employee (BPE)
Are You Looking for the Best Possible Employees for your Organization (not just a specific job) and then strategically allocating them to teams and departments where they are needed most?

Recently, I had breakfast with a close friend who was retiring after spending over 30 years in the high tech. His last job was Senior Vice President of Engineering at a well-established SaaS company. He said, Scott, today's recruiting process is broken. Intrigued, I started to ask questions and he told me of the Seattle Seahawks Best Possible Athlete (BPA) approach to the NFL draft. I think my friend is on to something!

The Seattle Seahawks' Draft Revolution: Flipping the NFL Script

As the NFL evolved, specialization became the gold standard. Once valued for their all-around athleticism, players evolved into more specific roles. Defenders had clear-cut tasks—stopping the run, rushing the passer, or sticking to certain coverage zones. Similarly, on offense, receivers ran precise routes and running backs displayed varying styles, from brute strength to nimble footwork.

Courtesy of Seattle Sports
Pete Carroll and John Schneider Fist Bump to Start the New Season

Against this regimented backdrop, the Seattle Seahawks bravely defied convention. Guided by Head Coach Pete Carroll and General Manager John Schneider, they pivoted towards drafting the “Best Possible Athlete (BPA)” over role-specific players. This strategic shift began with the 2010 draft and wasn't merely a nostalgic gesture. It was a game-changing move in a league increasingly defined by specializations.

Carroll's philosophy shone through when he remarked, "We’re not looking for the classic models. We’re looking for guys who can play the game."

RGB III and Russell Wilson talk at the 2012 NFL Combine
Rookies Robert Griffin III (6) and Russell Wilson (18) talk at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine

Russell Wilson became the poster child of this approach. Drafted in the third round of the 2012 draft, the athletic Wisconsin quarterback defied the prototype of a statuesque pocket passer. Instead, Wilson's dynamic playstyle brought a fresh flair to the Seahawks' offense.

But Wilson was only one piece of the puzzle. They spotted a gem in Bobby Wagner from Utah State that same year. Wagner's impressive skills as a middle linebacker quickly cemented his place as a defensive stalwart for the Seahawks.

However, the seeds of this BPA approach were sown in 2010, when the 'Legion of Boom' came to exemplify Seattle's bold draft tactics. This fierce defensive backfield boasted talents like cornerback Richard Sherman, an underrated college receiver-turned-defender, and Brandon Browner, a battle-tested veteran acquired via trade. Add to this mix the formidable safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, and the NFL witnessed a backfield that became legendary.

Legion of Boom courtesy of Seattle Times
Richard Sherman (25) Kam Chancellor (31) and Bobby Wagner (54) All represent the new recruiting model for the Seattle Seahawks

This fresh approach paid dividends quickly. By 2013, the Seahawks seized the Super Bowl title, overwhelming the Denver Broncos led by hall of famed quarterback Peyton Manning. A year later, they were inches away from a repeat, only to be edged out by Tom Brady's Patriots in a heart-stopping showdown.

A Shift in the NFL Paradigm

Since that pivotal 2013 season, there's been a discernible shift in the NFL landscape. Once typified by pocket-bound passers, the quarterback position has embraced the dynamism epitomized by players like Russell Wilson. Agility, versatility, and the ability to think on one's feet have become coveted traits. This evolution is not limited to quarterbacks. The league now celebrates general utility players who excel across various roles, proving their worth in multiple facets of the game. Icons like Christian McCaffrey, Jeremy Chinn, Alvin Kamara, Taysom Hill, Jamal Adams, Travis Kelce, Budda Baker, and Kenyan Drake are not just specialists; they're multi-faceted athletes, pushing the boundaries of their positions and redefining what's possible on the football field.

Taysom Hill Courtesy of
Taysom Hill plays QB, WR, and RB for the New Orleans Saints

Bridging the Gridiron to the Boardroom

With such transformative shifts happening on the football field, one can't help but wonder: Can the corporate world take a page out of the NFL's playbook? Is it time for businesses to rethink how they recruit and vet talent? Should recruiters and hiring managers move away from narrow specializations and toward identifying the Best Possible Employee (BPE)? As the Seahawks' BPA philosophy revolutionized the draft, could a similar approach usher in a new recruitment and talent management era in today's dynamic business environment? The possibilities are striking, and the implications are profound.

Redefining Recruitment in a Transforming Labor Landscape

The labor landscape is experiencing profound transformations, influenced by diverse factors, from technological strides to shifting generational demographics and values. The Millennials and Gen Z cohorts are at the forefront of this evolution. Unlike their predecessors, their aspirations aren't exclusively limited to paychecks or corporate accents. They seek purpose-driven, unique experiences and emphasize life balance and well-being.

Diverse Workforce of 2023
The diverse workforce in 2023

Today's workers aren’t merely on a job hunt but on a mission search. While pay remains crucial, the spotlight is on roles that offer deeper significance. It's not solely about the daily tasks but the larger vision and impact. They gravitate towards organizations that offer a paycheck and reflect their values, particularly those emphasizing environmental sustainability and ethical conduct. Essentially, aligning personal values with a company's broader mission is a quest.

The evolving dynamics of the professional world reveal that work's role in people's lives is shifting. Thanks to the ramifications of COVID-19 on the workplace, the era where work overshadowed personal time is fading. Modern professionals increasingly prioritize flexible schedules, with many championing remote work. Some organizations, often led by Boomer and Gen X leaders, might resist this changing tide but risk alienation from potential talent pools. Leaders who impose traditional work models might have short-term gains but threaten the long-term recruitment of top-tier talent.

Multi-generational workforce
Multi-generational Workforce - There are 4 generations that make up today's workforce. Each with their own unique work style

Reinforcing this dynamic is the burgeoning gig economy. Platforms like Uber, DoorDash, Airbnb, UpWork, and Fiverr are revolutionizing work by offering roles that cater to individual passions and schedules. This not only guarantees flexibility but also promises autonomy. Unlike their parents, modern professionals aren't necessarily seeking lifelong commitments to a single employer. Instead, they're exploring roles that align with their passions, projects that challenge them, and opportunities for comprehensive growth. The fact that, as per the IRS, 46% of American workers have supplementary "side-hustle" income underscores this shift.

The Gig Economy relfected by a host of gig businesses such as upwork, fiverr uber and doordash
The Gig Economy changed the laborforce in profound ways that employers are only now beginning to experience. This trend is here to stay.

Yet, this metamorphosis brings its own challenges. A notable one is the impending retirement of the Baby Boomer generation. As this cornerstone demographic steps away, it leaves a discernible gap. Coupled with declining birth rates and an aging demographic, the US has a dual challenge: bridging this talent void and ensuring newer generations are primed, passionate, and synchronized with modern industrial demands.

Embracing the Technical Revolution: The Shift from Hard Skills to Human-Centric Attributes

In the ever-evolving tapestry of the 21st century, the powerful threads of the technical revolution weave a narrative of transformative change. Spearheaded by AI and automation, this shift isn't merely retooling our workflows; it's reimagining the essence of work itself.

Historically, hard skills formed the sturdy pillars of many professions. Today, however, the capabilities of AI platforms, especially those empowered with advanced language models, challenge these long-held paradigms. Consider the remarkable aptitude of the latest general AI: it can craft and rigorously test code at a pace that outstrips even the most seasoned human developers. Yet, AI's brilliance has its confines.

Open AI Chat Gpt logo
AI technologies like Open Ai's ChatGPT will significantly change the skills and experience employers need from employees

While AI excels in code generation and assessment, it grapples with the 'why' and 'how' of the creative process. It doesn’t have the ingenuity to interlink diverse code snippets into an integrated, user-centric application or the innovative spark to envision groundbreaking software solutions. Herein lies the dance of logic, creativity, and purpose that underscores software development—a dance that remains uniquely human and will be so for quite some time.

This interplay between humans and machines reminds us that technology has always been the great equalizer. Microsoft empowered a billion individuals to become expert Word Processors and Data analysts. At the same time, Google transformed countless users into experts and investigators, much to the consternation of high school teachers trying to “test” their student’s knowledge based on an increasingly obsolete manner of instruction.

AI stands poised to enhance our capacities, making us sharper and more efficient, again much to the chagrin of today’s teacher. However, it's crucial to recognize that while AI can equalize, it alone doesn't confer distinction to a product or service. In the burgeoning age of AI, it won't merely be technology but the brilliant minds harnessing it that will innovate and usher in unparalleled products and services.

Yet, the one thing guaranteed in this sea of transformation is that the rigid constructs of "jobs", traditionally defined by specific roles and responsibilities, dissolve, leaving a lot of work to do by creative, collaborative, adaptable, resilient, critical thinking, problem-solving, and emotionally intelligence employees. Instead of roles and jobs in the future, the narrative will transition to "work" – a series of tasks demanding completion, agnostic of job titles. This dynamic work landscape accentuates the need for a new recruitment paradigm. It's not just about hiring for a role; it's about securing the Best Possible Employee (BPE) – those who can adapt, innovate, and synergize with AI to champion excellence.

Revolution in Recruitment: Emulating the Seahawks' BPA Strategy

Seattle Seahawks 2023 Draftees. Courtesy of
The 2023 Draftee of the Seattle Seahawks. Do You have a "draft" board of potential candidates?

In the competitive arena of the NFL, the Seattle Seahawks revolutionized talent scouting by championing the Best Possible Athlete (BPA) approach, prioritizing inherent potential over immediate role fit. Likewise, businesses today should consider a parallel approach: seeking the Best Possible Employee (BPE) whose attributes align with an organization's overarching vision rather than the immediate demands of a specific job description.

Corporate Calibration Inspired by the NFL Combine:

2021 Top Drafted Players. courtesy of ESPN
2021 Top Drafted Players

The NFL Combine, with its rigorous drills and evaluations, isn’t solely about physical prowess; it offers insights into qualities like adaptability, perseverance, and resilience. If businesses were to adopt a similar framework, candidates would undergo evaluations designed to uncover attributes determining a BPE. Beyond technical skills, critical thinking, adaptability, and alignment with corporate ethos would be at the forefront. As with the Combine, this more holistic evaluation would result in scores, offering a deeper insight into a candidate's potential. As with the Combine, specifics required by certain job functions could be included in the evaluation, like QB’s passing capabilities, wide receiver catching skills, and a lineman’s strength and endurance are tested today, certain technical skills could be added to the more holistic evaluation that the entire organization demands.

Transforming the Recruitment Framework: Transitioning from the binary outcomes of 'hire’ or ‘no hire’ to a more nuanced, scoring-based approach provides greater effectiveness and efficiency in an organization’s recruiting efforts, including:

  1. Enables Flexibility: Companies can view all candidates as potential organizational assets, eliminating the all-too-common scenario of choosing between two equally appealing candidates for a single role. Instead, hire and find the right fit for both.

  2. Supports Strategic Allocation: Based on BPE scores, firms can decide the depth of talent pool engagement, ensuring uncompromised recruitment quality. Certain strategic teams in the organization might get more First-Round draft picks than another, more established team or vice versa. The organization, like the NFL, can determine the order and priority of the BPE allocation across the various teams in the organization.

  3. Upholds Consistency: Uniform scoring instills fairness, ensuring candidates across different roles and periods are evaluated on the same scale.

The BPE-centric Recruitment Ecosystem: Inspired by the Seahawks' strategy, a fresh, ecosystem-oriented model of talent acquisition emerges:

  • Active Talent Scouting: HR recruiters evolve into talent scouts, continuously identifying and nurturing potential BPEs, ensuring an ever-ready reservoir of talent. Perhaps they even start recruiting while candidates are in college.

  • Centralized Evaluation Hub: Taking a leaf from the NFL Combine, this would be a space where candidates are gauged against the organization's holistic benchmarks.

  • Dynamic Talent Allocation: Individual departments or teams draft from the pre-assessed BPE pool. This system offers quick onboarding and ensures individuals align with the team's unique needs and culture.

  • Talent Recirculation: Instead of losing talent due to restructuring or changing needs, valuable employees are returned to the central pool, ready for reallocation where needed most (the NFL calls this Free Agency).

  • Recruiters of Talent: Instead of losing talent due to restructuring or changing needs, valuable employees are returned to the central pool, ready for reallocation where needed most (the NFL calls this Free Agency).

Changing the Way Organizations Market or Promote Job Openings

The Missed Opportunity of Traditional Job Descriptions:

Over my 35-year professional journey, the fundamental structure of the recruiting process has remained startlingly static. While the rise of the Internet and job portals have seemingly eased the process of job searching and application, they've also glaringly underscored the antiquated nature of the recruitment model. Say, for instance, you aim to work for a renowned software development company in Redmond, Washington. A cursory search inundates you with thousands of job listings. But is it logical to place the onus on the aspirant to meticulously sift through these long and frankly boring job descriptions to pinpoint the one role that’s a perfect fit?

Given today’s labor force challenges, this approach stands outdated and overly reliant on job seekers to navigate a sea of job listings. It inaccurately assumes there are more job seekers than jobs. This paradigm is no longer valid.

When identifying potential candidates instead of churning out resumes that often become scrutinized more by algorithms than human eyes, a paradigm shift is overdue. Companies should be in the driver's seat, with 'Company Scouts' actively seeking out OKEs (Our Kind of Employees). Meanwhile, potential candidates should be empowered with innovative platforms to showcase their skills, experiences, and capabilities holistically. This proactive method facilitates a dual advantage: Companies can more effectively match talent to roles, and individuals can better demonstrate their fit beyond mere resume bullet points.

Prioritizing Elite Business Athletic Attributes Over A Long Technical Checklist:

The Elite Business Athlete
The Elite Business Athlete is adept at communication and collaboration. They are adaptable, resilient, adept at problem solving and critical thinking. and have a developing emotional intelligence

Elite Business Athletes are defined not just by their skills but by their inherent attributes. A qualitative search of open job postings on a popular job site indicates the top Elite Business Athletic Skills desired of candidates are:

  1. Communication: A cornerstone for any role, facilitating effective idea sharing and mutual understanding.

  2. Teamwork & Collaboration: Breaking silos and fostering unified efforts is the hallmark of organizational success.

  3. Adaptability: An agile mindset that can pivot with the changing tides of business landscapes.

  4. Critical Thinking & Problem Solving: Beyond mere task execution lies the ability to ideate solutions and navigate challenges.

  5. Emotional Intelligence: Interpersonal excellence that can shape team dynamics and propel leadership.

Emphasizing these attributes can elevate job advertisements from merely a list of requirements to a clarion call for holistic talent. Thinking about fun and engaging ways of assessing these attributes could set an organization apart and uncover a wealth of BPE hiding the resume databases of their HR departments today.

Engaging Job Ads: Showcasing Alignment and Potential: Modern job ads should transition from mere descriptions to dynamic narratives that emphasize alignment with the organization's mission and the potential for impact. These ads can resonate more deeply with the modern elite workforce by prioritizing attributes like emotional intelligence, adaptability, and critical thinking.

Marketing Opportunities: Inviting the Elite Business Athlete: Job promotion, akin to product marketing, should weave a compelling narrative. It's not merely about presenting a job role with its 62 bullet point requirements but illustrating a potential journey. Companies should paint a vivid picture of how the Elite Business Athlete's attributes can intertwine seamlessly with the company's overarching vision.

Recruiting Elite Business Athletes

Moving from Candidate to BPE: In the sports arena, teams employ scouts, coaches, and various other experts to identify and cultivate potential talent. It's a proactive approach. Rather than wait for talent to come to them, they find it. This proactive approach can be emulated in the corporate world.

Instead of the passive “post and pray” method, where companies post job ads and hope the right candidate applies, companies should actively court and cultivate elite business athletes. The idea is to engage prospective employees by highlighting growth opportunities, illustrating alignment with their mission, and offering avenues for real impact.

A New Role - The BPE Scout: Introducing BPE scouts' would be revolutionary in business. These scouts would mirror their NFL counterparts, scouting universities, seminars, workshops, and other organizations to identify rising stars and potential fits. Their expertise would lie in spotting talent that aligns with the company's ethos and vision. They would have podcasts and social media reels to garner followers and find ways to incentivize valuable BPE referrals.

Using AI-Powered Talent Acquisition Platforms: Modern AI-powered platforms can drastically improve the recruitment process. By leveraging AI, companies can analyze vast amounts of data, pinpointing individuals whose profiles resonate with the desired attributes. Such platforms could automate some of the scouting process, identifying potential fits from vast talent pools and streamlining recruitment efforts.

Call to Action

It's paramount to remember that while tools, technologies, and strategies play their part, the heart of any organization remains its people. Investing in people goes beyond salaries and benefits. It means fostering an environment of growth, appreciation, and mutual respect. When companies demonstrate that they prioritize their employees' well-being and professional growth, they don't just attract top-tier talent; they retain it.

As the NFL's Seattle Seahawks have shown, success is not just about adhering to the status quo but having the courage to revolutionize it. The labor landscape is evolving rapidly in the business world, demanding a fresh, innovative talent acquisition and management approach.

By embracing a strategy that prioritizes the Best Possible Employee, much like the Seahawks' Best Possible Athlete approach, businesses can ensure they're poised for sustained success in the modern era. The future of recruitment isn't about finding someone to fill a role; it's about identifying and nurturing talent that aligns with the company's vision and mission.

As we stand at the crossroads of change, it's not just about hiring or finding a job. It's about pioneering the future of work and shaping industries for generations to come.

Organizations: Rise to the challenge. Dare to reinvent your recruitment narrative, scout for the elite, and embrace the holistic talent that will propel you into uncharted heights.

Job seekers: This is your clarion call: break the mold, showcase your multifaceted prowess, and align with companies that value you as an elite business athlete.

Let's embark on this revolutionary journey together, rewriting the rules and setting a gold standard for the modern professional landscape. Be bold. Be visionary. Join the revolution.

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