What Diddy has taught me about recruiting

BlogHer Original Post

The first, and only, season I watched of The Apprentice was an exercise in fascination and disgust. Though I hated the cut-throat attitude of some of the candidates on the show and was repulsed by the Donald's approval of people who were the perfect blend of kiss-ass and emotionally vacant, I learned some hard lessons about recruiting. All is not fair in love and hiring: Sometimes you just need people who can get the job done.

Now with most of today's Reality TV features crazy, borderline sadomasochistic challenges and people who are willing to do anything to "get the job", I've come to appreciate a Hip-Hoppier version of The Apprentice that I've watched now for four seasons: Making the Band, featuring music mogul, Diddy. Each season he is on a quest to find the right group of performers on which to bother spending precious resources, such as studio time, producers, voice coaches, and Rolexes. And though in many ways Diddy is egomaniacal and harsh with his recruits, his show really does provide insight into better hiring practices, with a few exceptions.

I do have some fundamental disagreement with a few of Diddy's tactics. This season the candidates have so much natural talent that he's had to find other ways of narrowing the pool, namely by breaking the recruits. I didn't see the point of the one-on-one boxing matches he'd arranged, during which candidates fought for their professional lives. One singer, after getting his pretty face bloodied up, decided that it was time to call it a day. Shame, he might have been a better pop star than a fighter.

During season 3 Diddy shared some harsh, but accurate feedback with a talented white woman who made it into the Girl Group he assembled, "Quit trying to be black," he said. Translating this in corporate speak: We've already established that you are talented and belong here; now your best contribution to this team would be your authenticity.

This season, I cringed when he told a very talented singer that he needed to lose weight or he'd be cut. Just think if someone said that to you in a job interview! "I want to see five or six pounds (of weight loss) every week," he told the singer, who appreciatively nodded. But then I realized, this is SHOW BUSINESS! Think of all the opportunities this guy might have lost hoping to get by without getting in shape. This is the music industry's version of compassion.

But what annoyed me about that mandate is that Diddy--like many ineffective bosses--issued unrealistic goals without providing a roadmap for getting there. Who knows what this guy is going to do to himself in order to slim down quickly? Diddy did provide a trainer; I hope the candidate uses this resource. You can see in the candidate's eyes how much he wants to be in the band; though I suppose that good intentions just don't matter in Diddy's world. Only the marketable survive. In the last episode he had to cut a candidate who'd injured his leg and couldn't adequately perform his dance moves, and a candidate who was distracted after learning that his unborn child would likely have Down's Syndrome. We have personal leave policies for that kind of thing. But not here.

"The music business isn't always fair," Diddy said. Come to think about it, BUSINESS business isn't always fair. Sure, we have to espouse fairness, but when it comes to such things as staffing, there are biases--inherent "unfairnesses". While we can't say we won't hire a candidate because she's a woman, we can legally say that she's "not a fit."

Some other lessons I learned from Diddy:

1. Have good people surrounding you: Diddy flits in and out during key moments of the program, but its really his professional coaches, managers, instructors who provide the care and feeding of the candidates. They need champions--people who will instruct and let go. But make no mistake, it's Diddy's decision in the end. They are like the Tim Gunn's (Project Runway) of the world, who don't make the final hiring decision, but who offer guidance and a buffer between the harsh realities of competition. Every company needs folks like these to keep the candidates from going insane.

2. Only those who really, really want it survive: There is some feeling of justice in that only the fully committed get anywhere on this show. So often we see talented-but-aimless types on the covers of magazines because they got drunk in a club, not because they are particularly talented. In Making the Band (and others like Project Runway and Top Chef) these people WORK for it. Whomever gets chosen you can't say didn't deserve to be.

In some of my hiring experiences I've been confronted with having to choose between a disengaged "star" and an underseasoned but promising alternative, who would die to have the job. On the rarest occasion I'll have the star who really wants the job, but barring this incredible luck I'll take the promising and enthusiastic one.

3. It's all about fit: I marvel at how quickly Diddy can make a gut decision about a performer. It usually comes down to his/her fit with others in the group. He's cut outstanding performers who don't mesh with the group vocally or culturally. And then he's let people with seemingly odd or averse backgrounds, but who can lend something unusual to the group, stick around. I know that I've often been caught up in hiring stars at the risk of having to bend over backwards to please them. Now I always ask myself, will having this person on-board affect the chemistry and flow among the others?

4. Don't just hire to hire: In season 2, Diddy felt that despite all the work put in to create a band, the group he had didn't have what it took to make it to the big time, and he dissolved the group. MTV must have had some consternation on the production side when he announced, at the end of season 3, that he hadn't found the right talent yet, and he extended the season to add more talent to the recruiting pool.

I admire his tenacity, though admittedly his pickiness is a luxury. When I have been in recruiting situations I normally need the person, like, NOW. I would love to send them home for a few months until they are "band material" or not make any decision at all. But it's still nice to see what high standards look like in the music world. People make a brand. You pick the wrong people and the brand suffers.

Word out, y'all. Peace.

Jory Des Jardins also writes at Pause.

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