Problem Solving

Leaders & Hiring Managers Profit From ‘birds of a Feather Flock Together’

Michael Mercer, Ph.d. asked:

Hiring managers and leaders use pre-employment tests, job interviews, role modeling and strategic de-employment to increase profits based on the saying, “Birds of a feather flock together.” In business and daily life, this is called “social networks.”

What is the premise and useful research on social networks?

The premise is expressed in a phrase in the book, “How Winners Do It” which says, “Human beings crave to be around people who seem similar to themselves.”

Research on social networks received a lot of media attention (New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 357:370-379, Number 4). This reported on a 32 year study showing obese people tend to hang around with obese people.

The day I heard about that research, I was driving on a street near my house. I saw dozens of high school students running. All looked trim and fit. They were on the school’s sports teams. Both the research and track team members illustrated the same point: “Birds of a feather flock together.”


In my research on pre-employment testing, I continually find employees like to work and talk with employees with similar qualities. Examples:

* Productive workers hang out with productive workers

* Lazy employees prefer working with other lazy people

* Teamwork-oriented employees enjoy collaborative people

* Whiners complain and gossip with whiners

Observation: Whiners’ favorite social activity is a Whine-&-Cheese Party!

To customize a pre-employment test, a benchmarking study is done. The outcome enables the company to focus on hiring job applicants who get test scores similar to test scores of the company’s best employees in each job.

From this research, I regularly find similarities among high-achievers in each job in each company. For instance, the winners in a particular job might typically get employment test scores indicating strong teamwork, optimism, and customer-service. In other jobs, the high-achievers earn pre-employment test scores showing strong optimism, attention to detail, and arithmetic abilities.

Profitable lesson for leaders and hiring managers: Such research results repeatedly prove that, indeed, “Birds of a feather flock together.”


Managers and executives can harness the power of ‘social networks’ to hire and manage groups of highly productive employees via

1. Pre-Employment Tests

2. Job Interviews

3. Role Modeling

4. Strategic De-Employment


Conduct a benchmarking study to customize pre-employment tests for each job in your company. The benchmarking starts by having employees answer the employment test’s questions. Next, have an expert statistically uncover how your best employees typically score. Those are the benchmark test scores. Then, when you test job applicants, you can prefer applicants who get test scores similar to your best employees.

For example, if your company’s best employees pre-employment test scores are high on friendliness, teamwork, optimism, motivation and problem-solving, then focus on hiring job applicants who get similar test scores. It is that simple.


Start customizing your interviews of job applicants by listing the most important 6-9 job talents you must have in the person you hire for a particular job. Make sure those job talents are verified by the pre-employment test’s benchmarking study. For instance, if you list teamwork as an important job talent, make sure your employment test’s research showed your superstars scored high on the test’s teamwork scale.

Then, create an interview guide form and questions to assess job applicants on the key 6-9 job talents. Make sure you focus on applicants who do well on all prediction methods, including customized (1) job interviews and (2) pre-employment tests.


Effective leaders and managers put this Thoreau quote into action: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

That means act the way you want your employees to act.

Let’s say you did a pre-employment test benchmarking study and also customized job interviews. And then you hired only employees who got employment test scores similar to your high-achievers and who possess the most important 6-9 job talents. For example, let’s say you hired only employees who are friendly, teamwork-oriented, optimistic, and good problem-solvers.

As their leader and guiding light, you must be their role-model, Hiw? By always exhibiting friendliness, teamwork, optimism, and astute problem-solving. Your employees learn how to act by watching your actions. And you simultaneously reinforce the strengths for which you hired them.


Since “Birds of a feather flock together,” what does the wise leader or manager do with employees who do not fit into the pattern of productive employees. For instance, using the example cited above, what does the leader do with an employee who is unfriendly, solo work-oriented, pessimistic, and stinks at problem-solving?

First, make sure that employee knows your company’s winners’ excel at friendliness, teamwork, optimism, and problem-solving.

Second, be a role-model of those outstanding qualities.

Third, make the underachiever hang out with the ‘social network’ of productive employees, and stop interacting with unproductive employees. This can include (a) having the employee join you for lunch or (b) assigning the underachiever to work only with productive employees. This puts positive peer pressure on the underachiever.

Fourth, if all else fails, you need to de-employ or get rid of the underachiever.

Remember: You are running a business, not a baby-sitting service for underachievers.


Remember the adage: “Birds of a feather flock together.” Leaders and hiring managers profit from this by hiring and managing what now are called ‘social networks’ – especially social networks of composed of only productive, low-turnover, and honest employees.

Copyright 2007 Michael Mercer, Ph.D.

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