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You’re Setting The Bar Too Low


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Nobel laureate Herbert Simon coined the phrase “satisficing” to describe a decision making process that settles on the first alternative that meets the minimum requirements. It’s a play on satisfy and sacrifice, meaning that you sacrifice the best alternative for one that adequately satisfies your current demands because you don’t have time to examine or evaluate more options. From where you park your car, to who you go out with for dinner, to who you hire, you “satisfice” all day long without thinking about it.

Simon realized that most people don’t know how to adequately optimize. We don’t know exactly how to find the best choice among all choices. Most of the time, we’re in such a rush that optimizing feels more like a luxury, whether it’s deciding where to go on vacation, who to hire, or what career path to take.

It isn’t ALL bad …

Satisficing can be a very pragmatic and necessary approach in many cases. After all, you don’t want to experience the “paralysis of analysis” either. Many times it simply isn’t worth examining every single option, especially when the consequences of your choices are short term, if there are any consequences at all.

But …

Some choices can’t be left to “what’s out there right now.” Some choices can’t be left to only the known available alternatives. Some choices have a much longer term consequence than where you park your car, what you have for dinner, or whether you take the bus or the subway. Some choices reach FAR into the future to change the course of a company, a department, a project … or a career.

When it comes to making choices concerning WHO YOU HIRE, satisficing can have a devastating effect on the long term success … even the viability of your company.

WHO YOU HIRE is the most important choice you can make. It shouldn’t be left to picking the “best you can find right now” or “Gee, I’m sorry boss, those are the only people who applied.

The downside of satisficing

Given our tendency to satisfice, more often than not, the best we can get or achieve is just the minimum we’re willing to accept. “I’d be happy with that,” is the approach we take. And when it comes to our hiring selections, that is 100% not acceptable.


Here’s some satisficing lingo:

  • “She’s the best choice among the available candidates.”
  • “He’s the only programmer we’ve found who meets our minimum requirements so I guess we should make him an offer.”
  • “I don’t have any other choices right now and sometimes we just need a warm body in that department!”
  • “These were the only ‘decent’ candidates from that last Career Event we had in St. Louis.”

It sounds bad doesn’t it? Herbert Simon believed the reasons we satisfice were fourfold:

  1. We have a hard time actually quantifying what we’re trying to accomplish. Selecting the “best” choice can be daunting.
  2. We usually do not know the relevant probabilities of outcomes. How many times have you been 100% sure of something, only to have it blow up in your face?
  3. We can rarely evaluate all outcomes with any precision.
  4. Our memories are bound by recency bias. What happened yesterday is more fresh in our minds than what happened 2 years ago, even when the latter is actually more relevant.

Image by james j8246 via

How to overcome our tendency to satisfice

Set the bar high. Set a REAL benchmark. Decide what you want and then set standards that you won’t compromise.

  1. Start out with what is “right” rather than what is acceptable because you’ll probably have to compromise somewhere along the line. You’d much rather compromise a little when you’re close to a higher standard than when you’re close to just “acceptable.”
  2. Know and understand the impact of a poor hiring decision. Conduct an Employee Turnover Audit to know how staggeringly high that expense can soar. Do some REAL succession planning … don’t just meet with HR and say, “Who do we have that can do Bill’s job if he quits?” “Do we have anyone to replace Jen when she get’s promoted?” That’s crisis management, not succession planning.
  3. Evaluate all the outcomes from making a job offer … or choosing to wait based on the Job Benchmark. Sometimes it’s cheaper to wait to fill a position than fill it twice, or three times.
  4. Never trust your gut alone. Your own experiential bias can taint any decision you make. ‘Trusting your gut’ is taking the most comfortable option.

What does this have to do with hiring the best talent?


Set your standards high when it comes to lthe people you bring into your organization. Set them high when it comes to establishing Key Accountabilities when you call me to do a Job Benchmark for your key positions. Set them high when it comes to your interviews and interviewERS. Set them high when it comes to using the right tools to insure the long term success and viability of your organization. Set them high when you compare job candidates to the Job Benchmark using our GAP Report.

In these areas, “I can live with that,” will only satisfy you for a short period of time and may require a much larger sacrifice later on.

And you can’t live with that.

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Certified as a Professional Behavioral, Motivators, and Emotional Intelligence Analyst, Ron Haynes specializes in using the science of TTI’s TriMetrix HD to help companies select and develop their top talent, create job benchmark solutions, and implement succession planning.

He has recently developed an auditing process to help organizations more accurately calculate true cost of employee turnover. It’s staggeringly higher than you think.

Need a solution to your employee challenges? Contact him at or at 870-761-7881.