Bet on Winners

I was having dinner last night with an old friend and he said, “you would never buy a race horse that was proven to come in 2nd or 3rd place and never first so why would you hire that employee?” Arguably you could say that out of 100 potential applicants you are doing pretty good with the persons sitting immediately behind the 1st place hire. But his observation did make me pause to think, “how often do we make a concession when hiring?”

Over my 25 years in business, I’ve read, talked, practically smoke signaled about the topic of hiring. I have definitely come to my own conclusions.

  • Hire slow, fire fast!
  • An employer with value will attract the best.
  • You share a future with your employees.
  • Fit matters.

The horse race analogy is a priceless piece of advice. All too often I hear a business owner or leader state, “we can’t afford the best talent.” Really? When you provide customer service, pursue new business development, enhance your products, or perform any other function within your company, you want to be second-rate at best?

Here’s the key. Not all blue ribbon winners are proven, yet. It is your job to identify who can be the first place winner with your help. There are certain qualifications a person needs to work for your company and to possibly be the unproven 1st placer.

  • Smarts – Obviously, they need to have the smarts to do the job. This should be the easiest area for you to evaluate.
  • Attitude – This isn’t just culture and fit. This extends beyond that. Someone could be a great personable fit in your office, but not share the same priorities of your core values.
  • Outlook – Where that new team member wants to go in their career, your company will follow. Longevity is a concern with outlook too. Will your company be able to provide a bright future with lots of opportunity?

There is a lot of discussion around fit, culture, style, and personality in business and especially in hiring. This is an area where I have continued to refine my opinions over time and through many experiences. I believe fit is absolutely essential to success. I used to say, “I don’t need to want to hang out with every employee. If this one person is a bit different then I may have other employees or clients who appreciate their style more than I.”

Well, hog posh. 

There’s a reason teams succeed and it is because of all these factors combined – fit, style, outlook, attitude, culture, personality. And, every one of these, each with their own nuances is essential to a successful hire. This may be a more difficult area to evaluate in an interview so don’t stop there.

You aren’t looking for drone clones to drive your company forward so be prepared for many personalities, but you do want to ensure the overall core values are shared among all your people. These core values are the bedrock of all the other items –

  • Personality – you can be funny, ha ha, or you can be funny by mocking and hurting others.
  • Drive – you can want to achieve more by backstabbing or by supporting others.
  • Collective Success – you can want to see a company grow and a team succeed or only care about yourself.
  • Smart – you can be smart and know it (too much) or you can share it.

To learn more about someone’s core values you need to get to know them. This isn’t a Q&A session in the interview. It is the discussion on family, background, schooling, and activities. It’s extracting their opinions on many matters. Determine what makes your company great, and what other companies have proven adds value to their team. Then seek out these core values.

Your culture isn’t whether all your employees are health conscious runners or green environment fanatics or volunteer driven community members. Sure, these are great indicators of someone’s core values, but activities are not culture. Your culture is how people treat each other. Is there mutual respect, support and care, nurturing and development, management with mutual goals, and leadership with mentorship?

The fit is mutual. The employee you are hiring needs to see the value with your team and your company. This is an area that I have taken much more seriously in just the last few years. We have a Vice President of Achievement, and their primary goal is to develop employees, help them learn to help others, and to ensure growth is singular and collective. It is amazing how your best employees will embrace this opportunity. You will also realize which employees view continued development as a chore.

It is your job to hire the best person for the company, for the team. It is also your job to bid farewell to those who are not the best. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, aimed to fire the bottom 10% of his company every year. That was quite a bold statement back in the day, and frankly it may not be the most politically correct even behind the boardroom doors. However, I have learned that an extremely important part of my job is to show my team that I support them by weeding out the non-performers with poor attitudes who don’t fit our culture. It is my job to fire people.

I believe in hiring slow, but firing fast. It is a hard commitment to make, but it is a necessary step for success and happiness.

Take your time to hire people. Conduct the interview, then meet them for coffee at another time. Introduce them to team members. Give them a test for job or culture fit. Give them a professional challenge your industry faces, and ask them how to solve the challenge, but in a written response. You will learn a lot through these interactions. In short, get to know them. I guarantee you will hire better.

When you make a mistake, fix it. You will know if you don’t hire the best. You have goals for your company. It’s not a large leap to understand you are hiring team members you believe will reach those goals. If you miss the mark with the hire, you will miss the goals. It happens. Just be sure to address it quickly. If possible, be nice about it. Help the employee transition into a new company and position where they will fit and flourish. This is part of your culture.

Obviously, you cannot do this with everyone. Despite all efforts you will occasionally hire someone who simply doesn’t share core values and is toxic to your company. In these situations, it is important to act fast. Remove the cancer from your team immediately.

Some leaders are afraid to make these changes. They feel it is not the nice thing to do or there will be added pressure on the rest of the team. At the end of the day, it takes more energy and effort to work with someone who doesn’t fit, doesn’t perform, and doesn’t have the same values. Trust that you are doing your employees a favor. I have been thanked numerous times for making these changes, and more often than not, it is accompanied with, “that couldn’t happen fast enough.”

The old saying, “Nice guys finish last,” needs to be modified. It is the “too nice of a guy, who finishes last.” If you are running a business, it is because you are driven to succeed. Nice guys are those men and women who care about leading a company, developing the people, and doing so with support, respect, and a positive outlook. Being too nice actually injures your team and hurts many people. You can be nice and successful.

I may not look forward to my work everyday. Let’s face it, sometimes work is work. But every single day I do look forward to working beside my team.


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