The five-year plan is dead. That’s right, dead. Irrelevant. Obsolete. The five-year plan is to business strategy what the dial-up modem is to Internet access. You can keep using it, but you’re going to get left behind.
Now, before all you Type-A folks out there start hyperventilating, let me explain. Planning is not dead. Preparation is not dead. Strategy, certainly, is not dead. However, as the marketplace moves from a Strategy 2.0 world to a 3.0 world—a shift that I explain in my new book aptly titled Strategy 3.0—strategy cycles are getting shorter and shorter. Businesses are forced to pivot and adapt too quickly and too frequently for a five-year plan to remain relevant for long. Of course, you can keep making five-year plans, but like James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, no one is reading past the first few pages.
The War for Talent
One implication of this shift in the strategic landscape is that your employees are likely going to be around longer than your strategies. An employee might, in fact, outlast numerous strategies. Accordingly, it’s no good having people who are perfect for one strategy if they aren’t also going to serve the organization well when your strategy changes.
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 fiercer than the battle for great ideas. The human element is the most valuable element.
Employees Make the Difference…for Better or Worse
Every two years, IBM carries out a massive survey of CEOs to see what’s happening in business at a global level. What do you suppose was the number-one theme that emerged from the CEOs who responded to the 2012 survey.
If you thought 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.” 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 get things done, to take the risks, to make the decisions today and the future decisions that push the strategy forward, 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 that will help shape or implement any strategic plan.
Are you convinced yet that it’s vital to your business that you hire the right people? I hope so. Now, how do you go about it? 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: Quite often leaders hire someone who is exceptionally capable in one area but abysmal in another. They are overwhelmed by the positive competency, but eventually regret the decision when the area of weakness makes life miserable for others in the organization. This is 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 do their role on the job), and character (being someone you can rely on). Among your candidates, this person may not rank the absolute highest in any one area, but he or she is strong in all of them and will be a lasting asset who doesn’t cause problems.
- 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. I was amazed how much energy and resources Google puts into their hiring process. And make no mistake, they hire slow. And if you discover you have an employee that is wrong, engineer the exit. Sure be kind and professional. But make the break. And make it swiftly and completely. Freeing their seat to fill with the right person is crucial.
- Keep on “hiring” after you hire: Too many companies woo great talent, then immediately begin to neglect that new talent. Don’t take your new hire for granted. Instead, continue showing you care about this person by investing in his or her professional development. Keep your employee motivated, empowered, and giving his or her best. (That’s what the CEOs in the IBM study were trying to do.) It’s like keeping the romance alive in a marriage: keep wooing a great hire to create longevity in the relationship.
As you’re looking toward your new strategy, remember that no plan self-executes. It is 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.