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March 15, 1994

Talent

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A great hire will outlive a great plan every time.

In the bygone Strategy 2.0 world, five-year business plans were the norm. Now that 3.0 is upon us, strategy cycles are getting shorter and shorter. One implication of this is that your employees are going to be around longer than your current strategy. Will they serve you well, not just for what you’re up to right now, but also for the strategies yet to come?
With the what of your business changing faster and faster, the who becomes more important than ever. I’d go so far as to say that the war for great talent is more fierce than the battle for great ideas. The human element is the most valuable element.
Every two years, IBM carries out a massive survey of CEOs to see what’s happening in business, globally. What do you suppose was the number-one theme that emerged from the CEOs who responded to the 2012 survey?
If you imagined it was the impact of technology or social media, you’d be wrong. It was the importance of how these leaders treated their people. Top executives are focused on tapping the ability of workers to help their companies adapt to new realities.
“CEOs have a strategy in the unending war for talent,” the study says. “They are creating more open and collaborative cultures—encouraging employees to connect, learn from each other and thrive in a world of rapid change.”22 The insight underlying this emphasis is that the people within the company are of crucial importance.
All strategy comes to life on the stage of humanity. In other words, it takes people to take the risks, to make the decisions, to get things done, and to problem-solve when the strategy hits a hurdle, goes sideways, or is disrupted by new realities. This means that, over time, it is the great hire who will help shape or implement any strategic plan.
Many things have been written about how to hire well—network, advertise broadly, and so on. This conventional advice is fine as far as it goes. But I want to focus on a few principles you may not have heard anywhere else.
• Hire a B+ candidate. Sometimes leaders will hire someone who is insanely capable in one area but abysmal in another, and they regret it when the area of weakness starts making life miserable for many in the organization. That’s why I suggest hiring someone who earns a composite B+ in the three core areas of chemistry (getting along with the rest of your team), competence (ability to fulfill their role on the job), and character (being someone you can rely on). Obviously, if you can find someone who earns an A in all three areas, that’s even better. But don’t hold out for it unnecessarily. Grab a composite B+ worker if you can find one—you’ll have someone on board who will serve you superbly as you roll out your strategies over time.
• Hire slow, fire fast. Unfortunately, many leaders get this one backward—and then find themselves stuck with trying to execute a strategy with the wrong players on the bench. I know you’re busy. Nevertheless, when hiring, it’s incredibly important that you take all the time and go through all the steps you need to be confident that you have the right person. You’re far less likely to make a mistake that way. If you do, correct it quickly by getting rid of the misplaced employee. Having the right crew on board is that important.
• Keep on “hiring” after you hire. Too many companies woo great talent before they bring the newcomer in…and then almost immediately start taking the new hire for granted. In this way they neutralize their own hard work. Instead of that foolishness, continue showing you care about this person by investing in his or her professional development. Keep your employee motivated, empowered, and giving of her or his best. (That’s what the CEOs in the IBM study were trying to do.) It’s like keeping the romance alive in a marriage: continue wooing a great hire to create longevity in the relationship.
As you’re looking toward your new strategy, remember that it’s crucial to have the right talent to get things done.
Learning to hire brilliantly may, in fact, turn out to be your most important strategy.

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