Lessons from the Cereal Box: Prize Inside

One of my childhood memories is anxiously waiting to open a new cereal box to find the prize inside.  The cereal companies did a great job of combining a child’s natural desire to collect toys and fondness of sugar with selling their product. In order to ensure that you did not deviate from their brand, each type of cereal had one toy type or character.  So, if you wanted to collect something related to a specific comic book hero, you had to eat a lot of that kind of cereal.  Moreover, sometimes the same toy came in multiple boxes, so rare toys required making sure you had numerous boxes of cereal.

One of my dreams was to collect a whole series of the toys and be able to go to elementary school and show them off.  At six or seven years old, every box of cereal seemed to take forever to eat and my mother only shopped about once a week at the grocery store.  After growing impatient, I started to eat cereal three times a day hoping to speed up the process.  That still did not diminish what seemed to be an infinite supply of cereal in the large box.  When I was eight and had lost hope of collecting all of the toys, I went to the cereal aisle at the local grocery store to look at the pictures of the new toys that were in the boxes.  To my surprise, I found a boy I knew from school sitting in the floor with about six opened cereal boxes around him.  Some had spilled, others were dumped on the floor, and he was digging in another.  There was a small stack of bright colored toys next him.  His mom had failed to keep him with her and he was digging for the toys missing from his collection.  At that second, I thought he was a genius.  When his mom and the store manager came a few seconds later, I realized it might not have been so smart.

As leaders, we too dig in proverbial boxes for the prize.  Most of us have been involved in recruitment and selection on a regular basis.  A few of us might even consider our abilities to discern the best candidate as above average.  However, most will agree that interviewing someone for a short period of time is a relatively poor predictor of future performance.  There are three simple lessons we can take away from the prize in the cereal box marketing technique that should help us all at hiring the best candidates possible:

  • We don’t know what we are getting from the outside
  • We have to eat a lot of cereal to find the best prizes
  • Some really need the prize to sell the cereal

We Don’t Know What We Are Getting

Just as a kid can look at the back of the box and see all the toy possibilities, there is no way of knowing what is in the box before buying it and opening it.  Nevertheless, most kids know which brands hold on to the prized collectables the most and which ones are the most “fair.”  As leaders, we need to ask as many questions as possible and ascertain as many motivators, drivers, competencies, and characteristics that we can about the potential candidates.  Moreover, we need to make sure that our standard or uniform tools are sufficient to glean the best information from all types of people in each type of position.  The more we look and understand the better off we will be when we make decisions on who to hire.

We Have to Eat a Lot

Just like cereal, we have to open a lot of boxes or hire a lot of employees to determine if we have found the truly high performer that has the motivation, capability, and match to produce the results that we desire.  If we improve our ability to screen candidates, the chance of finding better employees goes up, but there is no perfect x-ray machine that allows us to look in the box in advance.  Clients on a regular basis talk about how a little improvement in hiring goes a long way and they are right.  Improvement is many times incremental, but critical to the future success of the organization.

Some Really Need the Prize to Sell

The only thing more disappointing than the wrong prize is that the cereal tasted so bad that you did not want to eat more of it.  Similarly, some candidates do a good job of saying the right things and pointing to a skill or capability that your organization really needs to hide the fact that the rest of their offering would not meet your standards.

Over the next month, we will explore a few of the facets related to recruitment with the hope of reducing some of the most common missteps we all experience.

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