Don't you believe it ... always hire the best

When it comes to engaging new staff, the prevailing wisdom is clear: you should only ever hire top-quality people. But you don't have to think very hard about this premise - beloved of consultants, academics and journalists - to realise that it can't work. For one thing, a situation where everyone is employing staff who are well above average in ability is mathematically impossible.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

There are many other, more pragmatic, reasons why an obsession with top talent can be damaging. They include:

You can't attract it. I know this is hard for you to accept, but your firm probably isn't the world's sexiest employer. Google can have its pick of the best software engineers on the planet; you, turning out boring banking software in Bristol, cannot.

Top talent exacts an unacceptable price. Think of all those star investment bankers who laughed at the stuffy old risk-management department while signing their mega-deals. Many of them continue to trouser huge bonuses based on short-term profits, despite having driven their employers to ruin.

Finally, though, the biggest problem is this. An obsession with top talent is an abdication by managers of their responsibility to assess, motivate, develop and assign the mixed bunch of people they already employ. I have seen accounting departments composed largely of young, recently qualified staff getting bored and frustrated with clerical work. They need structure - a few clerks for each qualified person - but they don't get it because the person in charge can't be bothered to organise things.

Peter Drucker said the job of management was to get exceptional results from average people. You can run rings around those all-star teams.

Alastair Dryburgh is head of Akenhurst Consultants - www.akenhurst.com.

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