Is it time to hire a GAME CHANGER?

The following article is a take off of an article originally written by Randall Birkwood who has been a PACE client and friend of our NETWORK since 2012. Randall actually wrote the bones of this article in 2013, and I came across it again when purging old stuff from our blog library. Clearly it caught my attention because it’s such a relatable description of what PACE today calls our RESULTS FOCUSED hiring process. It looks like Randall was describing this process long before it had a name. Yes, good ideas tend to pass the test of time! 

In any case, I took some liberty to “Pacesize” its content with the hope that you would find it an interesting approach to an old topic that we blog about a lot. I’ve included a brief bio of Randall’s thought leader credentials at the end of this blog.     

Does the following scenario describe you?  

You’ve gone thru all the motions to find the right people for your team. You know – the kind of people who have great resumes, the right education, a track record of working for the right companies and staying in place in their last 3 jobs for the requisite period of time.  Most came across in very impressive ways during their interviews – they seemed to know their “stuff”.

But darn – your team is still struggling.  It hasn’t reached the high levels of performance you thought you were hiring for.  In fact, as you look around you are seeing your competitors staffing their teams with what seems like a lot less “resume talent” but achieving a level of results that you can only admire.

How can this be?  

The most likely reason your team is falling short is that, although you are trying hard to hire the right people, you are using the same candidate vetting and interview processes that you used a decade ago – and they just aren’t working. Your screening process is focused on getting rid of those nasty wannabes – candidates without the requisite skills or work experiences. Your interviews are focused on ensuring the candidate has the right knowledge and skills. You’ve paid attention to all the personal qualities that suggest the candidate is of good character. Unfortunately, you’ve either ignored or haven’t paid enough attention to uncovering the mindset that is so critical to game changing. In fact by getting rid of the wannabes, focusing your interviews on skills and actual work experience, you may actually be systematically “not hiring” the very candidates who might be the game changers you are looking for.  Game changers don’t come in neat little packages – with the right resumes, schooling, and work history.  Game changers are often a bit too rebellious to check all those boxes.  Game changers clearly have a different approach to how they approach challenges and managing their career isn’t always on top of their list.

Who or what is a game changer?

I think of a game changers as someone who thinks outside the box, approaches problems differently from others on their team, and tends to approach their work with a certain level of passion, a unique perspective, and a personal style that inspires others to build on their ideas.   If everyone on your team thinks that the right path is to go right, the game changer is that one person who makes the case to go left – and makes that case so effectively, eventually everyone buys in. 

Who wouldn’t want at least one of those game changers on your team?  So why aren’t most hiring managers not hiring game changers?  There may be only two choices – they don’t want to, or they don’t know how to – what to look for in a game changer candidate.     

When do you need to hire a game changer? 

If we could do life our way, we think every team needs at least one solid game changer – someone you can count on to approach problems differently, to set a higher than normal standard for themselves and those around them, one who finds a way to leave the crowd and make a difference – to the team, to your customers.

We think you should consider looking for a game changer when….

  • Your team is starting to look like yesterday’s news. Doing things like you did last year. Maybe even five years ago.
  • You’re no longer wowing either your new or established customers. Your service processes are looking old and tired. You haven’t tried anything new in a while.
  • Your industry is being seriously disrupted. A new technology. Some new, more innovative competitors. Some new players from other industries getting into your space.  You know you can’t just keep doing what you’ve always done, but driving that kind of change is exhausting you and your team.
  • One or more of the players on your team who you counted on to be game changers is leaving your team – either because a competitor has snatched them away or they’re retiring. Who will step into a game changers shoes? Not everyone can.

Why should you hire a game changer?  

We’ve all seen what game changers can do.  When added to a team on a very large scale we’ve seen game changers take a team from average to extraordinary levels of performance just like that. Do you remember in the business world when Steve Jobs resurrected Apple to bring a new sense of “aesthetics” to an upstart technology? Do you remember when the Seattle Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson and so quickly became Super Bowl ready? Did you ever read Steven Tyler’s famous quote –  “the one thing a song can’t be is okay. Okay is death.” In today’s music world think Taylor Swift and you will be thinking about a game changer. Someone with a unique set of ideas, a bigger vision a different perspective that has lead them and their teams to incredible success.  For PACE Jim Collin’s was our game changer – he wrote a book called Good to Great in 2001 where he made it clear that the enemy of Great was being Good enough.  We believed that then and we believe it now!

On a smaller scale, game changers are the idea people on your team – the people who focus on getting results, not just doing tasks.  They tend to notice problems before others and become catalysts in getting the problems solved.  And their ideas change things. The people on your team start thinking about their work differently.  They have new wins.  The team becomes more successful.

Game changers don’t always have to have formal leadership titles.   It might be a very successful sales rep or account manager who simply stated, does things differently.  It might even be someone on your admin team who sees something in the data they look at that says – something’s changing.  We need to pay attention here. Game changers come in a lot of sizes and shapes.

In our business we see a lot of hiring managers making decisions that result in okay performers. They are candidates who check all the boxes. The right job history, education, how they presented in the interview. They are candidates who will be able to do the job on day one, not on day 365, or year 5. Personal qualities do play a role in who gets hired, but it’s more often a candidate’s “likeability” than their energy, creativity, or initiative that gets their attention.  And game changers are often risky hires – simply because they come packaged differently.  We think its a risk worth taking – provided you do your homework.

If you’re ready to hire more game changers, here’s some things about what you’re currently doing that likely need to change….

The traditional job description.

A big component of any successful hiring process is the pre hire homework. Hiring managers should schedule no less than an hour with their recruiter to uncover what’s really important to a successful hire. And the focus should be on what the new hire will successfully achieve in their first year of employment – certainly BEFORE you talk about the skills, knowledge or other qualifications traditionally considered important to hiring success. 

Once you know the results the new employee is going to be asked to achieve, its much easier to make a list of the minimal skill or technical requirements and personal attributes that will be needed for a candidate to achieve the expected results. We’re pretty sure that if you start with results you’ll quickly discover that there is far wider gamut of backgrounds that fit your position than you originally thought. This means that the traditional job description which starts most recruiting projects needs to get turned into a description of what the new hire will achieve versus a laundry list of what qualifications they need to have in order to be considered a viable candidate. In fact, we recommend you get really clear on the minimum requirements so you don’t exclude potential game changers from the candidate pool.

How you attract candidates.  

Not all game changers come in neat little packages with the “just right” work history or education. They actually can be one of those quiet people who get big results but don’t necessarily look for all the attention that tends to come with it. To find game changers you should build recruiting strategies that focus on the meaningful achievements the candidate has already enjoyed and dig deep into how those achievements were delivered – who, in fact, was responsible for them.

If you’re posting the job, make sure it starts with a description of results, not qualifications. Look at non traditional sources of candidates. If you haven’t ever worked with a recruiting agency, executive search firm, or independent third party recruiter, when you need to hire a game changer, that’s a good time to give those avenues a try. Game changers are busy game changing – and often will turn to a recruiting agency to represent them rather than take time out of their busy days to job hunt on their own.

How you screen and evaluate candidates.

If you’re serious about hiring a game changer, take a second look at your standard interview questions and, in fact, the steps you put candidates thru in your current hiring process. Keep in mind you’re looking for candidates who, by definition, don’t always go with the flow, have the ability to create their own path, rely heavily on their personal instincts to get results which don’t always show up on a resume in neat little packages.

Interviews need to focus on learning more about how a candidate approached specific challenges they’ve faced in the past – not just in their jobs but in their personal lives. What prompted them to take on a particular challenge?   How did they get from point A to Z?   What challenges did they face and did they over come them? Who and how did they partner with others to expand their efforts?  What did they learn along the way? What would do differently next time?  Exploring the past using deep dive interviewing techniques always reveals the people who do things that others don’t or won’t.

We also encourage hiring managers to talk very specifically about the challenges the candidate is likely to face if they are offered and accepted the job they are interviewing for.  These are not problems that should come up later after the candidate is hired, but should be a key part of the interviewing and employee selection process .  Describe the challenge, the context in which that challenge is likely to come up, and ask each candidate how they would approach finding the solution.  What experiences have they had that are similar to what they will face in this job and how will they apply the skills they already have.  This type of inquiry not only reveals whether or not you’ve uncovered someone who “gets” what you’re trying to do, the challenges they are likely to face once hired, but will give you a chance to see their approach – how they would go about addressing the very issues you know need addressing.

This type of interview  engages a candidate with your hiring process in a way the traditional interviews will not. And candidate engagement is critically important to hiring success in a tight market.  At PACE, we not only engage candidates right out of the gate with their take on the obstacles they might face on the job they are interested in, but we also put them through a series of assessments that test for the personal attributes of most game changers.

The job offer.  

Keep in mind that game changers are motivated by challenges – not just money. Yes, they like to be paid well, but you know you’ve got a game changer on your hands when you see a candidate digging into your challenges even before they’ve got an offer. If your challenges are interesting enough, and there’s the right incentive for the game changer to achieve the results you need, a game changer will take that bait almost every time – making your up front pay plan important but a secondary consideration.  If your interview processes have done a good job of laying out the challenges, and painting a picture of the game changers future, pay tends to take care of itself .

Retaining your game changers.

Because a game changer is motivated by challenges, the secret to retaining them is to constantly be giving them new and progressively exciting things to do. Their pipeline must be filled with new and more difficult challenges.

They also need to believe that you will provide them with the resources they need to address these challenges.  They must they believe they will be given the freedom to move outside the norm. Most game changers simply don’t need much guidance along the way.

The strategies you will use to retain a game changer  are the same strategies you used during the hiring process.  You are simply rehiring them several times throughout their tenure with your team.

In summary….’s the message we’d like to send to hiring managers.

  • Re think the value of having game changers on your team.  Ask themselves what they might bring to the table that others can’t or don’t.


  • Challenge yourself to move beyond traditional hiring methods that focus on the tangibles. Game changers may not have those tangibles but will have a whole lot of intangible qualities that will make a big difference!


  • Redefine how you approach the job description, how you attract and assess candidates, and how you hire and motivate the game changers on your team.


  • Challenge yourself to become a destination for game changers. Every team, every company needs game changers because they set a new standard – they move the dial from good to great, from average to spectacular.  The alternative is being good and as Jim Collins says, good is not enough.  


Unfortunately, I lost track of of Randall Birkwood a while back and wish I didn’t. I met him at Intermec Technologies (now Honeywell) who was a client. Prior to Intermec Randall had been the Director of Recruiting at T-Mobile USA, Cisco Systems, and Microsoft Corporation. While at T-Mobile his organization was cited as  a top 10 benchmark firm in recruiting and talent management. He has been an advisory speaker at General Electric and AT&T for VPs and HR Directors, and has spoken at a number of conferences in the U.S. and UK. He was the subject of a cover story on the “War For Talent” in Internet World Magazine…I assume quite some time ago. If anyone is in touch with Randall today, give me a holler. 


PACE Staffing Network is one of the Puget Sound’s premier staffing /recruiting agencies and has been helping Northwest employers find and hire quality employees who are the “right fit” for their roles, for close to 5 decades.  

A 5-time winner of the coveted “Best in Staffing” designation , PACE is ranked in the top 2% of staffing agencies nationwide based on annual surveys of customer satisfaction.

PACE services include temporary and contract staffing, temp to hire auditionsdirect hire professional recruiting servicesEmployer of Record (payroll) services, and a large menu of candidate assessment services our clients can purchase a la carte.

If you’re a hiring manager looking for a service that will actually “make a difference” to who and how you hire, contact us at 425-637-3312 or fill out this form and we’ll be in touch!

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