I needed help and had few choices.

I have studied hiring, written a book about it, helped others do it and agree totally that it’s the single most important thing a leader can do. Jim Collins has it right.

I confess, I’ve only done it for myself a few times in my forty years. One time, through absolutely no fault of my own, I got it right… a brilliant hire that reflects everything that the best hire in the world should be like.

Let’s start with the data that my research revealed and the reality that remains consistent. Leaders asked if they had the opportunity, “How many of those hired in the past would you hire again, if you had the choice?” That would imply that these individuals who they would hire again either met or exceeded their expectations. Or if they declined the rehire implied that they were sold a false product during the hiring process. The answer usually hovers around 50%. That means, about 50% are what we call “false positives.” They look like a good candidate, but somehow didn’t live up to their “potential.” Oops.

If that 50% failure rate holds up over years, those hired into organizations will slowly bring down the level of competency and, effectiveness will diminish. The result of all this noodling around in relation to hiring is that I began to ask, what does the perfect hire, the perfect employee look like? And, what is it that people wanted most and seemed to get the least.

Following is that list that resonates with me, and many others.

  1. Someone who comes early and stays late and doesn’t count. It’s the idea that they will do what’s necessary to get done that must be done – regardless.
  2. Someone who is trustworthy. They speak the truth, hold confidences, and give me permission to do the same.
  3. Someone who is constantly looking for things to learn – because they love to learn. They simply are curious, want to understand the in’s and outs of the business / the job sufficiently enough that it becomes part of them.
  4. Someone who wants to be the best – where excellence is the end of everything they do. Mediocrity simply doesn’t stand a chance with this person. It also holds me to a higher standard.
  5. Someone who challenges my thinking – not because they want to be right, but because they want me to be the best I can be. That requires courage and tenacity since I don’t always want to hear what I need to hear.
  6. Somebody who can laugh out loud with me, at me, and at themselves. It sets a tone of humility so that no one gets too big for their proverbial britches. It is the contrarian we all need.
  7. Someone, who is interested in the world in which they live – the good, bad and the ugly. It’s the only way to maintain perspective and not get lost in the minutia of one’s work so that family and the larger world are first, not second thoughts.
  8. Someone who can make an honest mistake and not beat themselves up for it. Perfection is a hard edge to be around, since it makes it harder for others to be imperfect.
  9. Someone who is not better than anybody else – who will do the grunge work and never complain. Somewhere in here lies gratitude for our own good fortune.
  10. Someone who is open to forgiveness. It’s one of those necessary two-way streets, without which long relationships are impossible.

I write this because this is the last day of work for my fifteen-year colleague.

Chris originally undertook a part time engagement. Providentially, my small office in the woods was half way between the nursery school her children attended and her home in a rural part of Pennsylvania. Raised on the island of Nevis she had few of the normal credentials and no understanding of anything I did. But, I needed help and had few choices. I discovered that she had most of the things on that list and, over the years found the rest. As she grew and changed, learned her trade and my trade she never brought her bad day to work, although I did create a few for her. (See #10)

Chris leaves for the right reasons. She has outgrown me, and my business. It’s time for her to bring these ten qualities to the benefit of others who she will now lead.

The challenge of any hiring process is that if asked, most candidates for any job will say they have all or most of the ten. And, when tested many will appear as false positives. The things we can measure would never have told me these sterling qualities of Chris. They were on the job discoveries that kept on giving – to both of us.

Thoughts on Steve Ballmer’s Exit from Microsoft

I was asked to comment on the shakeup at Microsoft and this post in the New Yorker. 

So, here are a few bullet points of my initial thoughts…

  • Fear snuffs out creativity.
  • Taking smart even brilliant people and having them compete to avoid failure breaks every rule of how to build motivation and morale.
  • It is obvious that Microsoft didn’t know how to build effective working teams — either in the management of the enterprise or the the creation of ideas to make the enterprise competitive.
  • Brilliance without heart is not sustainable.
  • Steve Jobs was, at times tyrannical, but he had a sense of the team, of how to motivate and challenge individuals. 

I could go on and on.

Just because you’re intelligent doesn’t mean you’re smart – whether you’re an individual, or a organization.

Lessons from the Boston Marathon – Membership has its privileges

In early aftermath of the marathon bombings, before the identities and history of the killers was known, a media source made, in my opinion, a profound observation. Asked to guess what could drive anybody to kill innocents, did he believe that such atrocities could be explained, at least in part, by a common thread, some rationale that might provide insight into the minds of such deranged people. He probed the core of something, so very simple, that resonated powerfully with me – such madness is centered around rejection, not acceptance. In the jargon of group dynamics, the failure to belong, to have membership.

We’ve all felt the discomfort of not belonging, the sting of exclusion, ridicule, and derision. For most of us it is fleeting or situational, but it can hurt and occasionally scar. Now imagine it day after day, year after year, being on the outside looking in, a cumulative pain.

To experience this within a so called “team”, or at the boundaries of a social or societal class reduces morale, results in passive aggression at best, and sabotage at worst. Now imagine abuse layered onto such hopelessness. Exclusion is a breeding ground for vitriol – and, ultimately self hate and rage toward others.

At a basic level it’s what the folks at Gallup found as one of the critical relationships supporting productivity and loyalty. Workers flat out earn more and tend to stay longer if they feel valued at work and have at least one good friend. That seems so easy, yet many managers fail to cultivate the camaraderie so critical to the human condition. With all the drive to the bottom-line and the increasing demands on workers to perform, it is rare that the notion of membership even is discussed. Perhaps it’s acknowledged when identified, and, then just as quickly, minimized or forgotten in the rush to “get the job done”.

The specter of the Boston marathon brings attention to a condition that is with most of us every day — situations in which we encounter the consequences of behavior driven by individuals who feel disenfranchised because of something known or unknown – race, religion, social status, personal appearance, a handicap of some kind, In the extreme it can isolate, radicalize. Less extreme is reduced drive and production, increased apathy, absence and defensiveness.

Recently, I attended a meeting with three erstwhile entrepreneurs building a business dependent on a special boat, a stylized craft built by only a handful of builders in the country. Their success is dependent on something that is part art, and part function, part beauty and part utility. The builder was halfway through his very time consuming and costly project and about 50% over budget. The owners were caught, completely vulnerable and at the mercy of the builder. He was the epitome of a self-motivated, craftsman who lived off the grid and could deal with a world of business on his terms.

During a probing conversation it became clear that he had been deeply hurt by a world of business. Filled with mistrust he had become a stubborn, non-negotiating, uncompromising person who, for all the owners knew, was robbing them of both time and materials. The owners were dependent on someone who did not feel like a member and it was influencing the success of the project.

The insight led to a different strategy, a greater sensitivity to the builder and a greater interest in him, his craft and his view of the world. It meant a real effort of the part of the owners to connect, to forge a relationship based on much on membership as on the product.

It was a stark reminder of how people feel is tied to their roots of hurt and rejection that bleed into behavior. Belonging, obviously a relative concept when we relate to one’s attitude in building a boat to another’s a bomb for killing innocent civilians. Imagine if every boss, every parent, every teacher, every second lieutenant understood the critical notion of membership, and how to connect people to people, how to bring those on the outside in, how to help them belong…

Rod Napier