The NFL draft is happening this weekend, and having gone through that process myself, I can't help but look for parallels in the business world. The draft is a confined hiring game. A slightly warped microcosm of the broader labor market. And while the draft has rules in place specifically to give each team a fair shake, there are organizations that persistently outperform and others that consistently struggle—no need to name names.
Throughout his career, Andy Reid, the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, has been one of those coaches that has persistently drafted well. Picking up Patrick Mahomes, the future league MVP, after nine other teams passed on him being a great example. I played for Andy in Philadelphia and he had a framework for navigating the NFL draft that has stuck with me. Don't draft for need, pick the best player available. It doesn't matter if you already have an all-pro quarterback and the current NFL leader in passer rating, as the Chiefs did in 2017 when they drafted Mahomes. If the best available player is a quarterback, that is who you should draft. This strategy boils down to a simple axiom: you can't coach talent, and ultimately, it is talent that wins games.
Clearly there are practical limitations to this strategy for a business. Hiring a talented sales person when you need a front-end engineer would be foolhardy. But there is still an important lesson here. To the degree you can, put the resume on the shelf and look for talent. Too many times I have seen a hiring process whittled down to a few candidates and the final decision being made based on prior experience. A choice that often proves to be short-sighted, particularly for startups where things can change quickly and the ability to adapt and learn is paramount.
Putting less weight on experience and more weight on talent also enables a company to expand the pool of potential candidates. And with lines that previously separated different labor markets quickly evaporating as a result of the pandemic, it's also pragmatic. Hiring is a challenge for every business, whether it's Amazon or a two person startup. And it's no secret that the quality of talent inside an organization is the primary determinant of future success. Whenever possible, pick the best player available.