“The Corrine Principle”


Many years ago I was recruiting a team of Service Delivery Managers for IBM (SDMs as we called them, because IBM just loved acronyms!). The manager, Neil, had 20+ years in IT operations and systems management. IBM were at that time taking over the world by outsourcing corporate mainframe systems. Neil’s team needed to make sure that their clients were being serviced well and that the various IBM teams looking after those clients were efficiently coordinated to deliver what had been contracted.

The essentials of the brief Neil gave me looked something like this …

  1. 5 years experience in Mainframe operations including experience with the processing and scheduling of batch programs, backup procedures and disaster recovery
  2. Experience with the MVS operating system
  3. Understanding of SNA networking
  4. Operations analysis including systems performance and capacity planning
  5. Good team work
  6. Great communication skills and ability to quickly build rapport with clients
  7. A proactive approach in foreseeing potential issues and initiating remedies before they occur
  8. Commercial appreciation of contracted obligations and the systematic implementation of the processes necessary to ensure performance

After rapidly finding 4 staff for Neil’s new dream team, I hit a snag. Neil was desperate for more, so we agreed to catch up a few days later when I was next going to be out on site.

Our meeting went something like this …

Neil: “Hey Phil. Great to see you. I’ve been expecting you. So, show me the resumes you’ve got for me”

Phil: “Neil, I don’t have any”

Neil: “Well what are you doing here then?”

Phil: “I’ve hit a wall. I know what you want. You want 5 years of Mainframe operations experience etc …”

Neil: “Yes that’s right. You know what I want, so what’s the problem?”

Phil: “Well I just can’t find any more candidates that meet those requirements”

Neil: “???”

Phil: “Neil, can I ask you, who’s the best SDM in your team? Maybe that will give me some other ideas on how to go about profiling people for these roles?”

Neil, laughs, leans back in his chair and puts his hands behind his head.

Phil: “What’s so funny?”

Neil “Do you know Corrine and what she was doing before this role?”

Phil: “Wasn’t she working in the ops team doing admin?”

Neil: “Yes for the past 6 months, but before that, she was a nurse!”

Phil: “Wow, so what do you think makes her so good?”

Neil: “I don’t know. Can you meet up with her and find out?”

Phil: “By the way, who’s the worst person in your team?”

Neil: “Do you know X?”

Phil: “Yes … “

Neil: “Isn’t it funny, his resume looks just like the position description!”

So, what did I learn from this exchange?

  1. Rather than give the client what they want. Find out why they want it and you will probably end up placing someone in a role that is going to be far more successful.
  2. If your client has a role model of the perfect person, meet them, get inside their head and find out what makes them tick.
  3. Sometimes great people don’t consciously know why they are great at what they do. You need to be part psychologist, NLP practitioner or a “mentalist” to get inside their heads and find out what makes them tick.
  4. Often staff internally transfer to a role just because they are there. They may not have the requisite skills, but they are often more successful than those who do. Why? Because the “get” the company in which they work and they are motivated and they often have skills of other attributes that aren’t listed in the job description.
  5. “Hard skills” often have less to do with success in a role – look at the brief above. Points 5 and below (the so called “soft skills”) were more important in the end than the tangible experiences above it!

So what’s the Corrine principle? I’m still working on it, but it goes something like this …

The best template for crafting a job description for a certain role is by looking at the best person that is currently doing that role, or the best person who has done it in the past. Typically what makes them great is their soft skill capabilities and their attitude and not their specific industry experience or discrete technical skills.

It is also for this reason that we created our recruitment approach based on candidate benchmarking and going beyond a simple shopping list approach to defining requirements for people. If you want to know more, ask us and also maybe check out Lou Adler’s Hire with you head.


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