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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Millions of Followers Desperate for a Leader

Ever wonder why some people have huge followings? Whether you’re talking about a person, brand, sports team, radio show host, or just an online personality on Twitter or Instagram or any of the many social channels, the reason is always the same. It’s not that there are thousands of followers. It is that there is an extreme lack of leaders. This is true in all realms.

Being a leader is risky, but risk pays. Yes, some people have to lead and may not have planned on it.  Business owners are perfect examples. Perhaps they started their business because of a passion and it grew to the point that it needed employees and thus leadership too. Others choose to be leaders. They want to be the outspoken resource for personal fitness, encouragement and strength, startups, venture capital; heck even coffee or toys or hosting service or cloud security. These people are taking risks, putting their opinions out, being outspoken on topics, and not always in agreement with the masses. Safe positions will not be exciting. Consider talk radio hosts for a moment. Have you noticed how many of the callers disagree with the host? Yet, they are listening and following? This represents precisely why people gain popularity. They start a conversation and put an opinion out there.

Following a leader feels good and creates opportunity. At heart, humans have a pack mentality. We like to be part of a pack and to follow a leader. It contributes to a feeling of commitment and belonging. However, we also like to know where we stand in the pack. Status and position are extremely important. One thing to note here is that there aren’t just two positions – the leader and follower. There are many in between. Wanting to be a specific leader can be part of the reason to follow that leader. Take personal fitness and the online personalities who have evolved as popular characters on their channel. Many people follow just to be in line with that leader. They like the forward momentum and the feeling. Do not mistake this for a casual desire to follow. Many of these individuals follow because they now have access to the whole pack. They can share their stories and pictures. They can win their own followers as a small subset of the full pack. They can possibly win recognition from the leader. These examples can be seen in politics with factions of a party or with boyscouts who want to have recognition with the most merit badges.

Being real and imperfect is leadership. The polish of yesterday is gone. Livestreams, instant recordings on YouTube, Vine or Instagram and the thousands of citizen reporters have exposed the raw truth about every leader. They are not perfect. They do not sit in ivory towers that are untouchable by chaos, scandal or mistakes. The veil of Oz has fallen. The element of being real and having failures actually propels leaders forward.

Think about Elon Musk and Tesla Motors. He tackles adversity in innovation and critiques in the media head-on. He doesn’t shy away. He doesn’t hide behind polished press releases. He is real. You only need to consider brands like Starbucks which are challenged with permitting guns to be carried into their establishments or promoting equality for the LGBT community. These brands are real and people follow that. They may not agree with the leader in all instances, but they follow because of what they represent at the core.

Leaders give followers what they want. This will vary by follower, but there are basic elements that drive all followers to engage.

Future – A leader provides the follower with a vision for the future. They paint the picture of tomorrow and the opportunities and glories that are to come. Leaders also don’t shy away from reality. They tell it like it is. If tomorrow will be tough, but the days after great – they don’t just say it. They proclaim it.

Access – A family of followers represents a network to be tapped by any follower. Connecting with people of the same mindset and similar goals can be a priceless opportunity. Building a network is not just for the followers. You will consistently see leaders reach out to tap a new audience, embrace another group, and grow the family.

Empowerment – People need motivation. They want motivation. Leaders provide this through encouragement and empowerment. It’s like the army’s “Be all you can be.” for everyone. Without empowering others, leaders will not succeed. Look at all the great leaders and you will see that they don’t cut down people to get ahead, they raise them up.

Competition – People generally want to succeed. This means they need a challenge. Leaders provide subtle and direct challenges. Oftentimes, the challenge may be expressed directly in a goal such as weight loss or it may be indirect but comparable to others such as how many miles did you run this week. As a pack member you get to decide what success is.

What can brands takeaway from this review of Leaders and Followers? Be different. Apple said Think Different and they were right. It’s not about blending into the crowd and making safe choices. Striving to avoid conflict with any one individual or group will simply make you boring and irrelevant.

Speak up. Stand out. Take the reins and lead. Leadership is there for the taking. Don’t be shy.

Rapid Business Growth? Have Some Balls.

Earlier this year I faced a challenge in our company. Using both parts of my brain I challenged myself to figure out a way to convey what I was seeing to the employees. In short, we had experience extremely rapid growth in the last couple years. All the new faces, services, and processes challenged us. How do you take someone working their butt off, tell them to put down the project or client for 10 minutes, step back, and think about the big picture. It’s not easy.

Of significant note, was the average project size, which had grown substantially, and this was an even bigger challenge than you would expect. It meant revisiting processes to ensure they still worked, helping employees realize they may need to reevaluate every step of the ‘standards’ we had created. Perhaps even altering how customer service was delivered. Working remotely with other team members and even clients. Evaluating risk and return with a new perspective. Needless to say, it wasn’t just one thing.

I did what any business leader would do – I went to Toys ‘R Us. I needed a playful; yet clear exercise to illustrate what we had been experiencing. Roaming the aisles of princesses, Star Wars weapons, Spiderman costumes, and Skateboards from the future, I finally had an epiphany. Keep it simple, right? So, I went right for the balls.

While standing there, I noticed that there were a ton of balls – big, small, heavy, light, colors, styles – round, football, etc. Perfect, this represented our projects – the variety in type and size. Now what?

I decided the exercise could be as simple as throwing balls around the room with our employees to show the difference between projects – size and type again.

The next morning I gathered everyone in our conference room. It’s a good thing we have an extremely large room. I started my message…. “We’ve had tremendous growth and with that growth has come the need for quick realizations and identification of challenges, and a strong voice for implementing changes.”

I tossed four slightly larger than baseball size balls to four different individuals. I told them that I wanted them to pretend that was a project that they were working on. They would need to collaborate with others on the team per usual course of business. Thus, toss the ball to another in the group. I asked them to clearly identify the person, make eye contact and ensure they knew the ball was coming their way. They did this. Easy enough. We had 4 balls being tossed amount 30 or so team members. Not to hard. I gave them some time so everyone could become familiar with the size, weight and distance the ball would travel when thrown. They thought the exercise was easy and fun, but not really illustrating anything special.

Then I changed the project they were working on, I mean, ball characteristics. I reached in my big Toys ‘R Us bag and pulled out some new projects (balls). I threw in 2 balls of the same size, but different color (I was being a bit nice). However, these two balls were much heavier than the others (I wasn’t that nice). Of course, people holding the ball felt that, but when they threw them, they either over shot or under shot the person they were aiming for.

“They dropped the ball.”

The group was laughing at each other and having fun. Soon enough they got accustomed to the new balls. We now had six balls (two different varieties) tossing around the room. All was good. We had a control on our projects and how to handle them.

Then the onslaught of disaster began. I introduced mini-footballs, tennis balls, racquetballs, super bounce balls, large kick balls, and I let the games begin. I was defining the balls as I tossed them in – “Here’s a TV commercial, a web project, a digital ad campaign, mobile app…” – all projects applicable to our office.

We never had more than 12 balls being tossed around the 30+ people, and the rule still was that you needed to identify and make eye contact with the receiver, but that didn’t matter. The variety of balls caused mayhem. Just like the variety of projects and growing size had created issues in the office.

In the end, everyone got it. They understood that what looked like a standard project to us was actually different. In some way, shape or form, they were all still balls, but the differences caused issues.

We used expressions like – falling short or expectations, being over someone’s head, colliding with another project…. The exercise was a great experience. It opened our eyes to challenges many didn’t even know we had.

If you walk in our conference room and see tons of balls on the tables and floor – you will know why.