4.Stryker Makes It Work

If the idea of life themes and telephone job interviewing still seems a bit strange, or if you’re looking for more evidence that this is a tool that delivers, consider the experience of the surgical group of the Stryker Corporation.

Stryker Corporation, a $365 million company headquartered in Kalamazoo, MI. Stryker sells surgical supplies and other medical equipment to hospitals and physicians. In the mid-1980s, Brad Black left an office-automation company to join Stryker as vice president of human resources. “We had used Gallup selection at my former company,” Black says. “And it worked. The reps we hired using life themes averaged three times the sales of reps who were hired without life themes.”


Black proposed that sales managers at Stryker try the Gallup system to hire their reps. They weren’t interested. They felt comfortable relying on their intuition to make hiring decisions. And why not? Sales had grown at annual rates of 20% or more for the last 16 years.

Black continued to push for the life-themes approach. He pointed out every hiring failure from the company’s business-as-usual methods. And he made a forecast. He projected that Stryker could build a sales force in which everyone was as good as the people then in the top 20%. With that, the sales managers agreed to give life themes a try.

Stryker began by creating a model based on top-performing salespeople. Three critical talents emerged. The first two were unsurprising: good sales skills and strong motivation. But the third talent proved both elusive and unexpected: relationship skills. Stryker had never been explicit about this talent, nor had managers probed for it in their face-to-face interviews.

Relationship skills are important because of the way Stryker organizes its product lines. The products fall into two main areas: capital and base goods. Capital goods, items such as surgical drills, tend to be sold as large, one-time purchase orders. Base goods, items such as drill bits or rubber gloves, are less expensive but must be replaced more frequently. Stryker stands to make more money on base goods because of the volume and frequency of purchases. And the base-goods business depends more heavily on relationship talents – the ability to forge strong, ongoing bonds with customers.

Stryker used this new model to hire 45 reps. Two years later, the company analyzed the results. It divided the 45 sales reps into three groups – top, middle, and bottom – based on how closely each person had matched the life-themes model at the time of hiring. Then it compared performance. The unambiguous results: sales of the top group, those who most closely resembled the model, were nearly 70% higher than sales of the bottom group. Sales of the middle group were 45% higher than those of the bottom group. Stryker now uses life themes to help choose its technical and clerical staff also.