• Jen May

Recruiting for Ability. What does it mean?

We always recommend hiring for attitude and aptitude over experience. Obviously if I need an emergency operation I want a qualified and experienced surgeon, but equally I would prefer one who is interested in my case, motivates their support team to give their best work and can explain the procedure to me in layman's terms, than a crusty old thing with 40 years experience who is grumpy, disengaged and remote. If I am recruiting a sales representative or an administrator, then enthusiasm, a growth mindset and the ability to connect with customers and colleagues are far more important than any qualifications or experience.

When growing any organization, whether from micro to small, or from small to medium, we need to design our teams, to be comprised of the best possible individuals, who together will create the best possible dynamic. Nothing else will as efficiently deliver profitability, productivity, engagement and reputation.

I recently read the book "The Light and Fast Organisation" by mountaineer, consultant and TED presenter Patrick Hollingworth, that put this very succinctly with reference to two underlying principles:

Employ T people, not I people

According to this concept, devised by Tim Brown (CEO of IDEO), an "I" person is one who has a deep expertise in a particular area. A "T" person, by contrast, has a comparable depth reaching down, but also that cross bar on the top, representing their tendency to reach out, connect and collaborate with others. We are all too familiar with the "I" person who has risen through the ranks in a technical area and as a result has been promoted into a position leading people. These people do not make leaders; many barely make competent managers. This is because they inflate the importance of specific ability, over the importance of teamwork. Think back to a fractured team of specialists, and you will probably be able to identify some key "I" people in that team, denigrating the time other members "wasted" in supporting and collaborating with each other.

On the contrary, a group of "T" people will tend to form a strong interdependent team, encouraged to bring their specific knowledge and ideas to the table whilst being able to rely on each other for cooperation, support and constructive criticism. A consciously designed team of such people will only need to develop a limited number of skills in its individuals.

So a team comprising "T" people is more productive than a group of independent "I" people working largely in isolation, often in competition for recognition. As Tim Brown says,

"Most companies have lots of people with different skills. The problem is, when you bring people together to collaborate on the same problem .... if they are I-shaped - it's very hard for the them to collaborate. The results are never spectacular, but at best average."

Prioritise excitement and the power of positive engagement

When reflecting on hiring his team to establish PayPal, Peter Thiel said,

"If you were excited by the idea of creating a new digital currency to replace the US dollar, we wanted to talk to you; if not, you weren't the right fit."

Notice that having ideas and enthusiasm was no guarantee of being hired, merely a starting point. On the other hand, not having this attribute was a guaranteed way of being excluded.

Every organization can and should harness the power of this 'Excitement Factor' for shortlisting candidates for high-performing teams, at an organisational or a project level. When we at work with Business Success Program clients to develop and deliver on their Strategic Plan, we always start by establishing a Core Team, comprising the people in the organization most likely to contribute to a positive culture, innovative ideas and tireless delivery. All too often the short-list owners initially provide for this Core Team will consist of every senior manager, with little assessment of whether each individual will be actively engaged. Often more junior, or less entrenched people might be more beneficial - to the ideas and dynamic - and get more out of the experience in terms of engagement and personal development.

A good way to form such a team is to open it up to applications! It is amazing how often this simple sifting step is overlooked for internal team formation. Explain the purpose to everyone, and encourage everyone excited by the idea to apply. If recruiting an external hire, why not try this approach (depending on the role and their personality)? Forego the traditional interview and instead go for a more immersive experience, such as being part of a team/project meeting. You will see the candidate's personality, knowledge base, level of enthusiasm and potential contribution to the overall dynamic of the team, whist giving existing staff the chance to be actively involved in a decision which will impact them. Aim for a mixture of the most excited / idea-rich people, T-shaped people along with sufficient experience and oversight, to generate a thriving interdependent team, who can be relied upon to produce great results.

So you've got your A-Team (should that be T-Team?). What now?

As always, when you have great people doing great things for you, appreciate, respect and reward them. As Richard Branson said,

“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don' t want to.”

What this means is actually pretty simple. Here's a way to engage, motivate and retain your great people (and a good blueprint for treating everyone who works for you):

  1. Understand and respect their motivations

  2. Help them realize their strengths, rather than dwell on their weaknesses

  3. Give them opportunities, along with the support to help them succeed

  4. Invite their input and ideas. You don't have to use them, but explain if you can

  5. Continually open doors to them - which may include their exit door

An actively engaged, enthusiastic employee is worth their weight in gold for any organization. Even a former engaged, enthusiastic employee is a glowing ambassador for your organization and far more valuable to you than the same individual, in harness and unmotivated.

Just one question left? What will you achieve, with the power of your fantastic team?

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