Excitement is swirling about the new Harry Potter film being released this November. More properly, it’s a prequel, since it takes place long before Harry’s parents were born, but a lot of us Potter fans are getting our Hogwarts on, anyway. (I’m summoning my inner Hermione and yes, thank you, I was very much like her as a child – minus the wand and the incantations.)
So a few weeks ago, that was my state of mind while I was having a therapeutic cup of coffee with the head of Talent Acquisition at a very large company, whom I’ll call ‘Tracy.’ At least the headache-du-jour was not the common problem of attracting applicants. Tracy had nailed that one, years ago. Admittedly, it’s less of a challenge when your company is pretty much a household name. And branding as a preferred employer hadn’t been much of a concern either, for the same reason.
“It’s a little like Hogwarts,” Tracy said, referencing the school of wizardry where Harry and his friends began their adventures. “You get these amazing people who come in the door with the natural ability and all the right qualifications, and I expect that they’ll fit right in, become full-fledged business wizards, and work some magic on behalf of the team. Their managers proceed with the same hopes and expectations, but the crazy stuff that sometimes happens next is totally beyond me.”
It’s a natural assumption that gaining entry to a world of money and prestige and opportunities and perks is a sure-fire path to employee happiness, engagement, and retention. But Tracy was clearly worried that lasting success in these matters might just be an illusion, like the ones that so often complicated Harry Potter’s world.
So, summoning up my past life as a therapist, I asked, ‘What do you think would change all that?’ (You can lead a shrink to ‘retirement’ but you can’t make her stop wanting to help people.)
Said Tracy, “If I only had the Sorting Hat…”
Perhaps you don’t have more than a passing recollection of Harry Potter and the whole Hogwarts experience, so I’ll spell this part out for you. (“Spell.” Get it? Ok, if you don’t, Google ‘JK Rowling.’)
The Sorting Hat, over a thousand years ago, belonged to one of the founders of the Hogwarts school. In the beginning, it was just a hat. But over the centuries, it took on a life of its own (as things in magical places sometimes do) and became the resident expert in assigning new students to one of the four ‘Houses’ of Hogwarts – the one with characteristics and culture that would be best suited for a particular wizard-to-be.
Sounds a bit like what Talent Acquisition seeks to accomplish, doesn’t it? No doubt that’s what Tracy was thinking.
So how did the Sorting Hat work?
Well, it didn’t test for a range of skills, or knowledge, or cleverness, or any single attribute in particular.
The Sorting Hat actually interacted with the person upon whose head it was placed. Some clearly sensed this, and even tried to converse with it. Others were less aware – perhaps a predictor of the way in which they would approach, and (dare I say?) team with their colleagues.
The Sorting Hat never rejected anyone. It merely sorted them into the environment within which they would be most likely to succeed. That’s because the Hat was beholden to the vision of Hogwarts. And for a vision to be sustained, it needs to be served well.
The result, at Hogwarts, was pretty remarkable, when you consider how quickly and easily readers (and, later, viewers) learned to identify who belonged to which House.
I couldn’t help but explain to Tracy that there really is a Sorting Hat, of a sort. It’s not like the one that sent Harry and Hermoine and Ron to the House of Gryffindor. It can’t speak out loud, but it can write. But it really does identify the way a person seeks to serve team needs, what kind of job responsibilities they are most likely to enjoy, and also the kinds of teaming and business context that will bring out the best in them.
And as you’ve probably guessed, it lives at our house.
PS: You can access and apply this modern Sorting Hat – Teamability® – and you don’t need a wand, or an owl, or a potion. Your phone or email will do nicely. Call us at +1.215.825.2500 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.