Is it possible to hire all A players? Three Realities

It makes great headlines to talk about hiring “A” players.  Guy Kawasaki makes the statement that “People need to hire people smarter than they are”, but the reality is “A players hire A players; B players hire C players.”  In his book Topgrading, Brad Smart outlines an approach that is designed to ensure 90% of your hires will be A players in the role they are hired into.  Few would argue that having great people doing the right things is critical for a business to be successful.  To start this discussion, here are three realities for hiring A players.

1.  Organizations have a tendency to transform A’s into B’s and C’s: What keeps A’s acting like A’s?  The Gallup organization did extensive research that resulted in identifying 12 questions(Q12) to measure engagement, among other things.  The first three questions say a lot about what keeps A’s acting like A’s:  1)  I know what is expected of me at work  2)  I have the tools and resources I need to do my job  3) I have an opportunity to do what I do best everyday.  At the core of keeping A’s acting like A’s is communication.  This includes keeping them informed about changes in the business and listening to their questions/needs/opinions.

2.  Hiring people ‘smarter than they are’ is hard.  It takes a tremendous amount of self-confidence and cultural support: This starts with the CEO, and their willingness to allow their executive team to lead, which might result in them not have all the answers all of the time.  A key challenge to hiring smarter people is delegating the work (because they are better able to do it) and giving them space to make decisions.  This will put leaders in a position to not know all the decisions being made all the time.  So, the CEO needs to provide some space to bring information back and leaders need to be comfortable saying and allowing the comment “I don’t know, but let me look into that.”

3.  Hiring – Do people really have the time to be that rigorous? Hiring the best people for a job takes a clear understanding of the role (job description), a vision of how this role will impact the direction of the company (operational/strategic objectives), and time to really get to know the candidates.  In Topgrading, Brad Smart outlines a rigorous process that could easily take 6+ hours per candidate.  Teaching managers the reason for these three pieces and the importance of spending time to find great people is critical.

If you are a CEO trying to attract and keep the best talent, it is worth a 2-3 hour discussion with your team to explore this topic and find ways to fine tune your hiring and onboarding of  people so they are successful.   Some questions to consider in that process:

  • How do you define A players, B players, and C players?
  • What do you see as impediments in your own organization to hiring A players?
  • What are practical ways you have seen to make sure A’s do not get turned into B or C players? What are you doing?  What should you be doing?
Some other good reads:

Want to Keep Your Best People? Learn to Grow Garlic! Let Me Explain . . .

Have you ever lost a good person because they did not see a future at your company or they did not feel valued?  Then did you wonder “How could they think that?”  Maybe you even went so far as to tell them after they announced they were leaving, but it was too late.

Keeping people is a big and often complicated topic.  To simplify it I often share a rule given me by a  manufacturing supervisor from Tennessee almost ten years ago.  His wisdom?  “Intentions without actions equals SQUAT.”  My rule for making sure people know they are valued – invest in them through your actions.  Let me share an analogy.

I like to grow vegetables.  My new experiment is garlic.  It takes time to grow a full head of garlic from a single clove when you live in Michigan.  The process starts in the fall, when you plant a single clove so it can put down some roots before winter.  If everything works, next June I will have 20-30 full heads of garlic.  My investment in the process is pretty simple:  a little money, time, and patience.

So how does growing garlic relate to developing people?  As a leader you are likely busy with the urgent issues of today.  If you want people to feel valued and show commitment to what needs to be done, they need your time, patience, and support.

Here are five steps to cultivate your people garden:

  1. Evaluate where the person is today (current performance, talents, experience)
  2. Define where they want to be / the organization needs them to be in the future
  3. Make a plan to get them ready(new skills, experiences, mentoring, etc) for what they want/what the organization needs
  4. Revisit the plan every quarter to see how they are doing
  5. Get to work

I believe most leaders care about their people.  I also see lots of situations where these same leaders do not show in their actions what they feel.    Taking time to help your people think about and plan for their future shows a real commitment to their success.  What is the cost of such an activity?  A good development discussion takes about 5-7 total hours (2-3 for the leader / 3-4 for the individual).  If you add in three one hour(quarterly) follow-up meetings, the yearly time investment for a single person is approximately 13 hours.  The ROI?  What would it cost your business to replace a good employee?  What would the lost productivity or stalled projects cost your team if you were short a person for 3-4 months?

Spend 5 minutes making a list of the actions you do daily, monthly, and quarterly to show your people you value them?  If this is not on it – add it!

7 Leadership Lessons from Dave Bing

People from outside of Michigan may not recognize the name Dave Bing, so let me share some highlights of his career.

  • 7 time NBA All-Star
  • In 1996 named one of the 50 Greatest NBA Players of All-time
  • Entrepreneur – Founder/Owner of Bing Steel
  • Current Mayor of Detroit, Michigan

So it can be said that at many levels he is a successful person.  I had the opportunity to hear Mayor Bing talk today at the Grand Rapids Economic Club, and in thirty short minutes he had a lot to say.   The first thing I heard that stuck with me was his introduction.  He has been called “The right man for one of the most thankless jobs in America.”(Time Magazine)  Some statistics that illustrate what he faces in his job:

  • He assumed ownership of a city that was $330M in debt
  • There are 50,000 empty homes in Detroit
  • Detroit has a recently installed $100M computer system that does not work
  • Illiteracy is running between 40-50% for the residents of Detroit

All that being said, Dave Bing shared some great advice that all leaders need to hear.

  1. Be prepared . . . and be prepared to be overwhelmed – He shared that he went into office thinking that he was ready for this job because of his business and sports background.  He quickly realized that the problems he faced (see list above) were beyond what he was ready for at the time. 
  2. Leaders are Reslient – see #1
  3. Lead with Questions – One of the first things he did was to spend time asking this question of the people in his city, What is the role of government?
  4. Focus on Building Trust – He found many people did not trust the city government.  He realized he could not get the change that was needed without that trust from residents, corporations, and other key allies.  It became his #1 priority.
  5. Focus on Setting Priorities – The priorities he has set for fixing Detroit are Fiscal Health, Crime, Blight, and Education.  His agenda is clear and he is focusing resources and people on fixing these things.
  6. Focus on Accountability – Set performance expectations, work with people to help them achieve these goals, and be ready to make a change if the performance goals are not met.  An example, he has replaced his Police Chief twice because crime is a focus of his agenda and the performance goals were not being met.
  7. Leadership is about making tough decisions – He has to ask/urge people to move from their homes in areas of the city that are largely made up of abandoned homes and into areas where there is a concentration of people so the city can focus their services and resources.  You think your job is hard?

I agree with Time Magazine.  I would add that he is a man/leader worth following.  If you don’t know Dave Bing you should get to know him.  Read more

B players aren’t all coasting – Some are waiting. So lead . . . (video)

Here are some extra thoughts on how to use your existing time and performance evaluation process to get your B players more engaged.  B players are not necessarily coasting or hiding, many are waiting.  Waiting for someone to ask them to help.  Waiting for someone to give them some feedback, to say it is okay to not want a promotion, and to recognize they have lots of value to the organization.

Do NOT hide behind the performance evaluation form or process as being a barrier to having a great conversation with your people.  It is NOT the form.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kW8m9b5keM]

B players have lots of value – How to tap into it

*this is an excerpt from a frequent publication by The trU Group called trU Tips.  To view past topics click here.

What I’m hearing

A friend and mentor sent me this question “You’ve given advice on how to handle the strongest and weakest performers on a team, but what about the B players?”

What it means

First, let’s quickly define who the B players are: they’re the people who get the work done, have limited aspirations or potential to move higher in the organization, and likely have a nickname around an adjective like “Steady Eddy,” “Reliable Ruth” or “Dependable Dave.” Having these people around is priceless yet frustrating because they do their jobs but often aren’t looking for more work.

We hide people in this category, so just saying “B player” is often misleading. A client described a person on his team who was solid, knowledgeable and dependable — and everyone in the office was afraid of her (including her boss) because she was also domineering and abrasive. Yet she was a solid performer in his eyes. We HIDE too many people in the “B” area because they are “valuable” or “knowledgeable,” all while creating fear in peers and negatively impacting the team. So I would expand the definition of “B player” into three categories:

  • B-plus: Content in their current roles but willing to share their vast knowledge to mentor new people. They contribute to teams looking to innovate and optimize what work is being done.
  • B: Solid contributors who are not interested in or capable of growing others at this point in their careers. They generally build positive relationships with teammates and consistently get things done.
  • B-minus: Solid to exceptional contributors who get the work done but build few, if any, positive relationships with people around them. They do not cultivate expertise in the group, but give direction instead.

What you should do

People need to hear the truth, and the performance evaluation process is the perfect place to challenge B players — who likely comprise 50 to 60 percent of your workforce — but in a different way than you would A or C players. Don’t rewrite your form, but include the following items as post-it addendums if needed:

  1. Three to five things you see them doing extremely well.
  2. A list of adjectives that come to mind when thinking about what they accomplish but how they accomplish it. Include words that describe how others perceive them.
  3. One request, in the form of a goal, that they could accomplish that would help the overall strength of the team —mentoring, permanently fixing a process, cultivating a key customer relationship, etc.

That third item can provide you with an opportunity to divide your B players up a little and challenge them to move the team forward.

B and B-plus players have a place on the team. They have ideas, and may respond to challenges in a way that will surprise you. Those who fall into the B-minus category have to be put on notice, and as the leader you need to be bold enough to have that conversation.

Want to hear more?  View the video supplement on YouTube.

Mastery – One of keys to success! Part 3 of 3

Mastery is “available to anyone who is willing to get on the path and stay on it-regardless of age, sex, or previous experience.”   These are the words of George Leonard in a book he wrote called Mastery.  This is not a new book.  My copy was printed in 1992 and looks/feels like it has been on the journey that the author describes.

This predates the 10,000 hour discussion I presented (see past blog), but reminds us that committing to Mastery is really about getting on a path and staying there for a lifetime.  For achieving Mastery is not about the destination, but the journey to get there.  The author provides many vivid images of the journey, from sports analogies around tennis to illustrations using the martial art of aikido.  If you are interested in a rich exploration of the topic, read the book.  But let me share a couple of parts that stuck with me.

A significant point was around our view of practice.  Practice if often viewed as a verb, but as it relates to Mastery it is best viewed as a noun.  The author points out the Chinese word tao and the Japanese word do – both of which mean road or path.  So achieving Mastery is about practice (remember 10,000 hours).  Practice is a journey on which you embark.

Leonard also shares his five keys to Mastery, which are:

  • Instruction
  • Practice
  • Surrender
  • Intentionality
  • The Edge

So what can you do as a leader to increase Mastery?

First, your performance management system has to promote Mastery conversations.  These questions need to be addressed:

  • What Mastery is needed in a role? (defined and measured at some level yearly)
  • What Mastery is the individual interested in attaining? (their own career goals – integrated into what the organization needs)
  • How is the Mastery journey going?  (for you and for us)

Secondly, the ownership of the journey has to be made very clear.  It is up to the individual.  A leader/organization owns providing a target and the support and resources.  Ultimately, the decision to go on and stay on the journey is owned by the individual.  Do you agree with this?  Think of it this way, most leaders will not be around a person for five years, and keeping track of 5 or 10 or 30 different people is not realistic for any leader.  So if the individual owns the plan, the commitment of  the leader become to create the time to review it, provide feedback on their progress, and assist in removing barriers that might be encountered along the way. (ex. time, resources, skills)

So how does your organization promote the journey to Mastery?  How well are you leading this journey?

Life Lessons from . . . Bob Newhart?

I had the opportunity to see Bob Newhart speak as part of a series I have annual tickets for at the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan.  I had two reasons for going:

  1. My friend Bob was interested in using my extra ticket – so I had some good company for the drive.
  2. Bob is funny.  Specifically Bob Newhart is funny.  My friend Bob is funny – he is just not Bob Newhart funny.

Learning is often about going into a situation with an open mind and just listening for something that makes you go Hmmmm.  Here is what I carried with me after my evening with Bob Newhart.

  • On retirement –  “I am 81 years old and people often ask me when I will retire.  I make people laugh, and I have a hard time walking away from that and saying that I will not do that anymore.  People need laughter, and that is what I do.”
  • On working at a difficult job – He hosted The Tonight Show 87 times so Johnny Carson could have a break.  “It was a really hard job, and one time when I did it for three straight weeks I was exhausted.  Johnny once said that if he put the same effort into his first marriage as he did his job he would still be married.”
  • Just a random funny comment that made me laugh – “So I was driving down to the racetrack in San Diego with my wife and Tim Conway and his wife . . . . . . ” .  My only thought was that it has to be funny sitting in a car with Tim Conway.  My friend Bob and I giggled at this comment because we shared the same vision of ‘just hanging out with Tim Conway’.

There is learning all around us – and situations that plant seeds that make us think about things.  Just spending 90 minutes with Bob Newhart left me thinking about some significant things.  Here are questions that were rolling around in my head:

  • Careers – What part of what I do would I never want to stop doing because the world needs it?  my note:  What would a workforce look like if everyone understood this about themselves, shared it, and pursued it?
  • Balance – Is any job worth more effort than a marriage?  What is the cost of being wrong?   my note:  I once checked the divorce rate of CEO’s and it was lower than the national average.  I am still processing this – but I was surprised.
  • Friendship – What is your definition? my note:  How about “Someone who will go with you to see Bob Newhart and also thinks Tim Conway is funny.”

It was a good night.

Mastery = 10,000 hours! Part 2 of 3

It is a big number.  10,000 hours translates into 5 years of doing something BEFORE you can be considered to have attained Mastery.  So where did this number come from and what does it mean to people trying to attain it and leaders who are trying to grow and retain people who have this?

First question – Where did this number come from? In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers he explores success and presents what he has found to be common themes to those who have achieved it.  One of his findings was that success might look overnight or based on talent, but a common theme is preparation (aka.  hours of work). He references a study of young musicians that examined who achieved the highest level of achievement vs those who became good.  The difference between average, above average, and excellence?  Hours of practice.  In the end, the number was 10,000 hours.  He also presented other anecdotal evidence of famous athletes, musicians, and business icons.  This is not his only point to success, but it is a significant one.

This 5 year number is one that I have also heard shared.  Studies have been done in the area of nursing that support that the length of time for a nurse to achieve the status of a clinical expert in a particular area is 5 years.  So if it is important for a nursing supervisor to also be a clinical expert, promoting them at 2 years or 3 years is a risk, especially if their team needs them to be an expert.  Mastery is about preparation.

Second question – What does it mean to people trying to attain Mastery and leaders who are trying to grow and retain  people who have this? Think about our society – microwaves, fast food, IM(now Twitter), Facebook (instant updates of life vs yearly Christmas cards), etc.  We do not like to wait for things.  When we do wait we do not wait very long.  So this number 10,000 hours seems like a looonnnnng time.

I was presenting to a group of nursing leaders one time and I said something that clicked with them because everyone went for their pencils and wrote it down.  I said “When you think about career development, imagine a crock pot, not a microwave.” I was shocked at their response, but this visual made them realize the time needed to grow expertise AND the commitment that it takes from all to achieve it.  Helping people achieve this takes a plan AND a commitment from a leader to revisit it and revise it every 6 – 12 months.

So what can be done with this number?   First, as an individual pick an area you want to achieve Mastery in and get to work.  A job, special projects, volunteering, reading each week, or whatever other way you can find to accumulate hours doing and learning.   Secondly, as a leader make a habit of asking questions of your people.

  • What is an area that you want to become an expert in?
  • What things do you want to learn or do over the next year?
  • How are you progressing  on the development goals we set for you last year?
  • Where do you want to be in 5 years?
  • 

Mastery – A great goal and a significant goal!  Just don’t get frightened by the number.  Remember, when you are doing what you love time passes quickly.

Leadership Lessons – through Art?

I had a moment where I was reminded how my perspective on things is not the only perspective.  I was at Art Prize 2010 in Grand Rapids, Michigan and I was looking at the picture shown here.  It is made out of 520 tiny cups that are 12 different shades of grey and the artist is James Freeman.  So here is the trick with this picture – when you stand close to it all you see is grey cups, with just a faint image that there is a face in these cups.  The farther you move away, the clearer the face becomes.  For me, even moving away the image was never really all that clear.

How did I figure out this was a face?  Well, my 7-year-old took a picture of it and announced to me “Daddy look – it is a face!”  It turns out when take a picture from any distance the face appears.  Apparently the artist created an image that exposes some of the limits to our minds ability to process the different shades of grey and be able to see the REAL image.

So where is the leadership lesson here?  First, a gentle reminder that we often need help in seeing the real truth in anything – whether it is developing personal awareness of strengths/weaknesses/passions, finding the best solution to a problem, or becoming better leaders by knowing and dealing with our own constraints.  Looking through our own eyes have some natural limitations.

Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to have a 7-year-old along to look at things a little differently.  Or having a friend take a picture of us (have you taped one of your speeches lately?).  Art reminds us that there are different ways of seeing the same thing, and having the courage to first ask the question “What do you see when you look at this?” is the first step.  The second is waiting to hear the answer or answers, then giving time to consider the possibilities that differ from your own.

I initially just saw a bunch of grey cups.  Thankfully someone else saw the art.  Kudos to James Freeman for the leadership lesson in art. –www.jamesfreemanstudio.com

Mastery – Does it matter? Part 1 of 3

All this talk of Mastery – Initial Thoughts . . .

I watched a 10 minute YouTube video from Daniel Pink and I was blown away.  He shares the portion of his book (DRIVE) that shares the research based finding that the knowledge worker is motivated by three main things:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

What caught my attention was the word Mastery, which has become a familiar word for me recently.  The dictionary defines it as the possession of a consummate skill or the full command of some subject of study.  Now it is being heralded as a key to motivation for many workers.  Is this a surprise?

As a father of four I have had several more experienced men tell me that adolescence is easier if your child finds what they are good at doing.  This makes sense, but I am surprised that suddenly, in the adult world, this becomes newsworthy.  This is not intended to be an attack on someone making money for stating the obvious, but a recognition that we should view these new lessons for what they are – a reminder that many of the things we have learned in life still apply.

So how does this change how we manage our careers?  How does this change how we lead?  If Mastery is about being good at something, what has the most recent recession done to motivation if people are in one of two states – overloaded doing the work of 1+ people or trying to look overloaded by keeping their head down and staying in constant motion doing something.

Whether your people are in either of these states, I would offer to leaders that the  first step is sitting down and starting some dialogue by asking “What % of your job do you enjoy and want to get better at doing?”.  Then come up with a plan for increasing that by 5% over the next month.   Mastery starts with focus – and focus starts with leadership, from the inside and the outside.  A leader has the chance to bring focus from the outside by helping to define some targets/goals for the individuals.   We all have a chance to build focus from the inside by trusting, relaxing, and working at resuming our journey to Mastery.  After all, it is our journey and it is important.  Pink reminds us of that.  Where are you on your journey to Mastery?

There is more to be said on this topic.  Watch Daniel Pink’s take on this at  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc.