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Need a Strategy for Success? First, Hire the Right People.

A common perception of what makes a business successful is as follows: the leader is a genius who has a vision, defines the strategy, and all the employees work to make that vision into a reality.


The reality, however, is far different. In the best-selling business book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t,” by Jim Collins, a team of researchers discovered that the most successful leaders focus on getting the right people on board before they set strategy. In essence, they load a bus with the right people and get them in the right seats, before they decide where to drive the bus.


An example of this was in the early 80’s when Dick Cooley became CEO of Wells Fargo. Cooley foresaw great changes ahead in the banking industry, but he did not know exactly what those changes would be. (Sound familiar? As much as the auto industry has changed in the last few years, I believe more change is ahead).


Instead of trying to anticipate those changes and set strategy, Cooley decided to hire the best team he could so he could cope with any and all challenges. He hired the best people he could find, many times without a specific job in mind. When the changes finally did arrive in the form of de-regulation, Wells Fargo weathered the changes better than any other bank.


In contrast, while companies led by a “genius with a thousand helpers” can be very successful while the genius is at the helm, once that genius leaves, those companies inevitably experience a decline (think Apple). A great vision without great people is eventually rendered irrelevant.


So how do you find great people? When preparing for interviews, doing a little work up front will go a long way in helping you find the right person for the right job. Ask yourself the following and prepare questions that will give you the answers:


  1. Can they do the job? Give candidates hypothetical challenges to solve and pay as much attention to how they analyze and approach the problem as the solution. Ask them to complete a project before the first interview and give them homework between interviews. Also, give them three hypothetical projects and ask them to rank which they’d most and least like to work on, and why.


  1. Will they do the job? Here you are looking for self-motivation. Ask them tough questions about why they want to work for you and what their work ethic is. Ask them about their likes and dislikes and what their passions are. In general, self-motivated people:


  • Ÿ Have a purpose in life and live it
  • Ÿ Are not afraid to take risks or go outside of their comfort zone to achieve a goal
  • Ÿ Are energized when given a new project, jumping in with both feet
  • Ÿ Are able to laugh at themselves, admit vulnerabilities and take criticism
  • Ÿ Learn something new every day because they love learning
  • Ÿ Believe in themselves and others
  • Ÿ Are persistent and willing to explore new options if something isn’t working
  • Ÿ Strive for health in all aspects of their life; physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually and socially
  • Ÿ Are able to rise above failures, adversity and loss


Also ask candidates what they think “successful” means, and how that person has tried to achieve it. In general, most people decide early on in life how successful they are going to be or want to be.

  1. When in doubt, don’t hire. Keep looking. If you are having trouble finding the right person to fill a position, don’t compromise. Find a way to get through until you find the right person.


  1. If you need to make a people change, act sooner rather than later. The moment you feel like you need to highly manage someone, you know you’ve made a hiring mistake. If you are giving third and fourth chances, hoping for improvement and wasting precious time and energy thinking and worrying about an employee, act sooner rather than later. Keeping the wrong person on board is unfair to that person and to all your other employees who have to work with them. Let them go and everyone will be happier for it.

With the right people in the right jobs, creating a vision and defining a strategy for success will be easier because it will be a team effort. Involving your employees in the decision, “where to drive the bus?” will motivate them to help you get there.


What tips do you have for hiring the best people? How do you keep them happy?

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