By Sandy Seay

6/3/2013 -

"Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.”-- Coach Vince Lombardi.

“Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and
some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.”-- Twelfth Night, II, v.

“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”-- Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

One of the most important business books in the past 20 years is Good To Great by UCLA professor Jim Collins. The book is loaded with insightful ideas and interesting examples of how a company can go from being Good to being Great. It’s quite readable and accessible and we highly recommend it to you for your library. One of the key principles Collins discusses is the importance of hiring Great Leaders – he calls them the Right People – and his idea is a bit different from what we usually think. Rather than hiring someone only when we have an opening, he says we must hire the Right People first -- and then find the right spot for them after you hire them. The key is to get the Right Person – the Right Person is more important than vision, mission statement or any other principle or policy. Here are some insights that Prof. Collins offers, along with a few comments of my own.

  1. The Right People help us to adapt to change, and if there is one constant in the workplace, it is that change will come – people, markets, products, employment regulations, technology, ad infinitum. Someone once said that the 7 Last Words of a Dying Company are, “We’ve always done it that way before.”
  2. The Right People are self-motivated and possess an inner drive. For the most part, these are Type A, High D, goal oriented leaders who are motivated by accomplishment and achievement. A personality temperament assessment such as the DISC profile or the Predictive Index on each key leader can identify this trait. Seay Management can help with this assessment.
  3. If we don’t hire the Right People, we’ll never have a great company. Indeed, as an employer, we will never be any better than the employees we hire.

    ● The Effect of Compensation on Hiring the Right People.

    Compensation is one of the most misunderstood areas of management and Collins finds that there is little correlation between (a) the amount of the compensation package and (b) hiring the Right People. He asserts that the Right People receive a variety of compensation packages and that, on average, they receive less than other managers in comparable companies. What are we to make of this?

    Frederick Herzberg taught us years ago that compensation is not a motivator – to the contrary, it is a satisfier. Compensation, particularly salary, standing alone, does not motivate employees to superior performance, with the exception of a commission plan paid shortly after the event. In my experience, there is little rhyme or reason to compensation systems and I have seen that pay plans vary considerably from employer to employer. Plus, we know that we can never pay employees “enough” money. When asked how much money is enough, Mr. Rockefeller responded, “Just a little bit more.”

    Thus, the standard should not be to pay “enough” compensation but to pay “competitive” compensation, which is to say that we should have a compensation system that is competitive with other employers who have similar positions. The Right People will be motivated by considerations other than money, chiefly by those attributes that correspond with a person’s character.

    ● The Effect of Character on Hiring the Right People.

    In one particularly insightful passage, Collins refers to an old maxim that proclaims, “People are our most important assets.” While this point is true to a very large extent, Collins takes it a step further and says, “The right people are our most important assets.” Collins emphasizes that character is the most important aspect of the hiring process, more than education, skillset and experience. At the end of the day, when the economy is bad, when the customer is difficult, when you’re tired and worn out, when people have disappointed you, it is character that will lead you on to victory.

    Character is how you act when no one is looking. It’s that inner essence of a person that determines how a person will behave and has to do with dependability, loyalty, honesty, truthfulness, goodness, integrity, perseverance, respect, courage, teamwork, trust, cooperation, etc., or the lack thereof. Thus, a person can have good character, which includes these traits, or bad character, which does not. Character is formed by various influences at an early age and tends not to change. Character is manifested in behavior and is revealed under pressure. Thus, Coach Lee Corso will say, “Sports doesn’t develop character, sports reveals character.” If you can discern a person’s character, you can predict how a person will behave, most of the time. The Right People have good character and, on that account, are dependable, loyal, honest and good. Coach Lombardi once said that a person’s finest hour is when a person has “worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle -- victorious.”

    ● The Effect of Being Rigorous About Hiring the Right People.

    Rigorous is an interesting word, having to do with being demanding, thorough, exact and challenging. Rigorous does not mean ruthless – it means sticking with the idea of hiring the Right People, over an extended period of time, even if progress sometimes seems slow. Collins offers three practical disciplines for being rigorous:

    1. When in doubt, keep looking. Managers sometimes need to fill a position so badly that they settle for a lesser candidate. Collins’ suggestion is to stay the course and continue to look until you find the Right Person. Someone once said that the closest a person ever comes to perfection is when he or she completes an employment application. What you see in an interview is the best the person will ever be. If there’s something you don’t like about the candidate prior to hire, it will only be magnified after you hire the person and may result in buyer’s remorse or, should we say, “hirer’s remorse.”
    2. When you need to make an employment decision, act quickly. For example, if you have an employee you know needs to be dismissed, it’s usually better to move ahead with the dismissal, take the heat of the moment, and let the healing process begin. Otherwise, it will get worse because things left alone tend to get worse, not better. If a person has good character but is in the wrong job, it may be good to transfer the person to a different job. But if the person has a character issue, a transfer usually is not the answer because all we’re doing is transferring trouble. A good question to think about is, “If this were a hiring decision, would I hire this person again?” Or, “If this person resigned, would I be disappointed? Or relieved?” The answers to those questions will usually tell you what to do.
    3. Put your best employees on your best opportunities, not your biggest problems. The Right People will give you your best return.
  4. ● What Does a Right Person Look Like?

    Collins doesn’t give us a checklist or a procedure for recognizing them. Instead, he gives us principles – hire the Right People first and then find a place for them, always be looking for the Right People and hire them when you find them, do your best to hire a group of the Right People, a person’s character is more important than experience or qualifications or skillset, compensation is important but not most important, be rigorous and stick to the game plan of hiring the Right People, make necessary employment decisions quickly and ask yourself if you would hire this person again.

    So, the best I can tell, a Right Person is one who is loyal, has good character, is self-motivated, dependable, honest, personable, dedicated, will do whatever is necessary within the bounds of ethics, smart, has a good balance between home and work, will give you the hard facts but support the team when a decision is made . . . did I leave out anything?

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