Hiring isn’t easy. Lots of books will tell you to hire for culture fit, hire the person and sort out the job for them, or to simply bring in a diverse set of voices that will create the energy and creativity to help you grow your business. How can you tell what really works?
I’ve hired hundreds of employees in the last twenty years, so I look for the shortcuts where I can, just not problematic ones like ‘hiring people who just look like you or went to the same school.’ I’m looking for the insight from elsewhere in a candidates’ life. My greatest mentor, Morgan Underwood, used to come into interviews with great ‘personality’ questions. He always said that if we’re going to spend so much time together, we should hire employees whose company we enjoy.
Nowadays, we’d probably drop that into the aforementioned ‘culture fit’ and, while that concept gets a bad rap sometimes, I find it useful. I love to hear that a candidate devotes time to charity. It’s exciting to hear they have an artistic side of an interesting hobby that offers insight into the type of person they are. This last point is most useful when I hear that a candidate plays modern board games.
Now, full disclosure: Board games are one of my main hobbies. I encourage play of them everywhere I work so it might sound like I’m just fishing for more players at lunch time and after work but hear me out. I like to hire board gamers because I think they make great employees.
Mind you, I’m not talking about people who play lamentable classic board games like Candyland with their children. I’m talking about people who play modern board games like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride. These folks are participating in a hobby that is surging in popularity, on its way to a 12 billion-dollar valuation in 2023. I have always said that this resurgence in popularity is a reaction to so much screen time. More importantly, these people are spending their leisure time with the most intellectually stimulating hobby around.
Why are these people likely to be great employees? Let’s take a look at what you get when you hire a board game fan.
- Intellectual Exercise – Their hobby is an intellectual exercise. In addition to being one of the best ways to combat dementia, board games are mentally stimulating as they involve resource management, planning, trouble-shooting and puzzle-solving – often all within a single game. Modern board games ask players to manage situational luck, weigh options that all sound attractive, and make a large number of decisions every hour they play – all in the name of fun with friends. I want people on my teams that do this kind of activity as a hobby because they are getting trained to make real business decisions when it counts for my company.
- Interaction with People – Forget the introverted geek stereotype. Most modern board games involve a lot of interaction. The best of them hone your people skills with a chance to negotiate and trade, participate in auctions, work cooperatively or semi-cooperatively, and basically learn more about people through deep interaction. In some games, you need to ferret out a player who is working against the others. Often, you have to weigh what’s important to you against what the other players want or need. In others, you just have to flat out convince people to support what you want to do. These are absolutely valuable as business skills. Sure, you can build camaraderie by going bowling or out for drinks, but board games offer you insight into the way people can successfully work together, compete, and win with our minds, using skills that are more directly related to how a business runs.
- The Art of Winning and Losing – Board game players get more chances to win and lose than the average person. Every time you release a product, run a marketing campaign, or try to close a sale, you get important feedback and an opportunity to learn. Board gamers get this experience with every game, learning from failure in a place where the stakes are lower. Since modern board games are driven by decisions, strategic thinking, and managing risk, players get a chance to learn from their errors, dissect success, and – to paraphrase one of the world’s greatest game designers, Reiner Knizia – to see winning as a goal and to focus on that goal, not the winning. When we face these highs and lows more frequently than just a quarterly report of success, it helps employees manage the stress of these key moments.
- Bias to Action — For board gamers, the focus is on action. Sure, people watch movies, tv and sporting events to relax. There’s nothing wrong with that. In contrast, board gamers simply put on another hat and get to work for their fun. No, modern board games are not work. Yet, this hobby trains minds to engage, to act in a timely manner, and to make considered moves. That drives a bias to action, to push ahead with plans and avoid indecision. Board games will give them 10 turns to build the means of being successful and then running the engine to generate that success.
- Knows the Rules — Board gamers like to learn new rules. They are good at finding paths to succeed within the boundaries of the possible. Modern board games are not an endless slog like Monopoly. Most have fixed endings that give players focus on a strategic plan. That sure sounds a lot like a good business plan. Board gamers learn the rules both to follow them and find the opportunity hidden among them. Sure, rule-breakers are cool. But a smart business really wants a team of employees that can find a way to success by playing by the rules and using them to effectively drive ongoing success. If your employees are always thinking about how to make things work with what they have, even during their leisure time, they are building up the mental muscles to be strong when it’s time to build and grow your business.
Let’s be clear: I’m not saying that you should include a game of Terraforming Mars or Scythe as part of your interview process. Yet, I do think that when you hear your prospective employees are playing board games in their spare time, you are likely speaking to a smart person who has the problem-solving skills to be a great contributor to your business. I rank it right up there with people who read a lot, have cool side hustles, and those for whom Coursera is a YouTube substitute. Grab these people before some other smart company does. They will help you win the game your business is playing time and again.
P.S. Yes, introduce a board game night or lunch at your company. This will help you build these skills with your existing team while also increasing a sense of camaraderie amongst your employees. Look here for a set of party games I recommend.