Here is the thing, you are only as good as your people. Period.
I know this expression is often used by executives as a pep-rally style, feel-good statement, but at the end of the day, it is true.
People are at the forefront to everything you do. People can bring you up AND they can bring you down. The people on your team ARE the difference between catching a catastrophic software error vs missing it. But how do you hire people who will grow your business vs those who are toxic? While this is a complex question, and one that may not have a precise answer for everyone, I think there are a few key aspects that stand true.
1. Hire for diversity: Talent-Driven Company Model
The auto brand Volvo was met with some hard realities several years ago. They were not matching against top luxury brands like Mercedes or Audi and were also not competitive with the big brands like GM. They could see the sales problem clearly, but took a rather unexpected approach to solve the problem. They decided to transform the work-force both in hiring and structure to change the company into a talent-driven company.
A key piece in bringing in new ideas was simply to target talent outside of the automotive industry. Leadership targeted hiring engineers from cellular technology companies for their expertise in digital consumer interfaces. They went to fashion for interior design elements and textiles. In order to break the auto industry mold, they hired over 3,000 new people to diversify the team’s expertise beyond their narrow industry.
So many companies value industry specific knowledge, which is great in some ways, but industry knowledge ultimately yields faster on-boarding time. It doesn’t yield innovation, new ideas, entrepreneurship, or better best practices. Volvo’s talent-driven company strategy worked, bringing them back into being a major player in the luxury vehicle world.
2. Hire for integrity
Last year, Keenan and I had the discussion about ASG’s culture in terms of hiring a cultural fit. In this discussion, I explained that I only have one criteria for a cultural fit…integrity.
I don’t care about things like common interests, out-going vs introvert, loud vs quiet, or any other small character difference. I only care about integrity. I define integrity as a culmination of being forthcoming, ethical, and seeking honesty.
Honesty is frankly tricky stuff. We often confuse honesty with being nice, but that is not true. It is also not being cruel or hurtful in a purposeful or extreme manner. Honesty is to simply seek the truth or strive for the truth. In order to achieve this, you also must seek self-awareness to check your potential biases.
- Is it truth or is it an emotional reaction?
- Is it truth or is it bias?
- It is my truth but maybe not the full truth?
Beyond honesty, comes being forthcoming. This is a hard characteristic to understand, particularly in an interview. To recognize honesty is great, but to have the bravery to express it is another step. For me, in order to have integrity, it ultimately requires the inner bravery and external diplomacy to express truthful thoughts. This is how I perceive being forthcoming. So many of us are taught to never do this. To hold our cards and keep our poker face on at all times. But this doesn’t permit effective collaboration. Holding the cards yields things like deception and manipulation, far from being forthcoming and honest.
Lastly, ethics… I perceive ethics to be more actionable than honesty. Ethical behavior is beyond recognizing the truth. It is acting on the right thing to do.
When you have a corporate culture that strives for the elements in integrity, I truly believe the culture and innovation can grow and achieve a higher level of mutual trust, freedom to express ideas, and ultimately the platform to elevating the team.
3. Hire to contribute to a good process; AKA, your people face your customers!
Outside of “how” to hire talent, it is important to recognize that how you empower that talent has a great impact.
Last month, I purchased some leather sneakers from TopShop for a trip to rainy Denmark. I knew I would need this type of shoe for the climate, which is very different from sunny Colorado’s needs. But after only 6 days of wearing these shoes, they began to fall apart. I thought the process for reporting the obviously defective shoe would be simple. Yet, interestingly, I was met with a very different experience…
- First, they concluded the shoes were “accidentally damaged” from the initial photos so I had to submit more photos for review.
- Then, I was told it was from normal wear and tear, which I then again referenced the receipt clearly showing the short timeline from delivery to damage (only 2 weeks).
- Then we returned back to damage, again asking for more photos.
- On and on, I was given obstacles and tasks in an endless circle (there is that INTEGRITY coming back into play).
So I did something radical…I reached out to the CEO explaining that while I don’t know much about their internal reporting, I’m quite confident that my experience is the result of an error in manufacturing caused by the rubber density being miscalculated. I advised the CEO that by training customer service to be blockers, they are making costly mistakes in their ability to catch manufacturing problems and correct them early on.
At the end of the day, TopShop hired people they didn’t trust to think about problems critically and instead gave scripts to try and prevent return fraud, never realizing they just removed their internal early detection warning: customer feedback!
By not trusting their people or hiring trustworthy people, TopShop has created an even larger problem.
So my conclusion is this:
You are only as good as the people you hire…
The people you hire are only as good as the system they work within…