The Best Business Owners Know They Are in the Talent Business

Dave Oakley

President, DOC Inc.

Book Cover: "Good To Great"At the end of Ed Hill’s “Murphy Lives” article (September SRG), I sharaome of my insights on how a leader’s approach was even more important than the tools we use to solve them. I’m a big fan of taking lessons from solid research and putting them in play to help businesses thrive. Among my favorites is the work done by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great.

In this study, Jim and his team compared companies side by side, in the same time period, to understand why one was average and remained so, while their competitor was able to become great and sustain it for at least 15 years. 

Right from the start, the leaders of the Good to Great companies put “who” questions before “what” questions. They understood getting “the right people in the right roles” was more important than establishing mission and vision. Of course, most of the approaches I see are the latter. 

The definition of “the right people” for the Good to Great companies was also different. They knew the right person is more about talent and character than knowledge, skill and experience. Of course, when all are present, we have an outstanding fit. But most businesses select people based on knowledge, skill and experience. It’s vital to understand that knowledge, skill and experience can each be taught or acquired. Talent and character are powerful things that cannot be taught, they are more of “who the person is,” than “what they know.” 

Why does this matter so much to a business? Well, the Good to Great companies excelled because they looked to match people ideally in roles they fit to a high level based on talent. They understood sweating character helped them have a culture with great camaraderie without having to convince people to work together.

Key to this thinking was that talents aren’t rare and special, reserved for “actors and athletes”, but that everyone has them. The best businesses also understand that every role can benefit from finding talents and traits that lead to natural performance. Some managers make the mistake of believing some roles are too menial to require this kind of thinking.

Housekeeping in hotels was an example examined. Of course the tasks themselves are not difficult for someone to learn, and some will view these roles as undesirable. But when the data was followed based on customer satisfaction and efficiencies, they discovered that there were exceptional housekeepers. In fact, they not only produced exceptional results, they took pride and enjoyed this work. Wanting to learn why, they discovered the exceptional housekeepers had a strong sense of family and empathy for travelers among other traits. They learned that most had developed routines to test a room before they left it the way a weary traveler would. Laying on the bed, turning on the fan, and using the remote, they discovered and resolved issues without being asked to do so. 

As silly as this example may seem, it highlights that people who have a natural fit to their role will deliver in unscripted ways. They perform at a higher level without the need for much, if any, supervision. 

When given what they need to perform at their own high standards, they are naturally more engaged than someone who is just performing at a task level. A sign that someone has exceptional fit is when they learn tasks at a rapid rate. In fact, these naturals will often be the best trainers or mentors in their roles.

Take the more direct example of installers who perform the work to complete a home remodel. Many can perform the mechanics of the job to an acceptable level. The great ones understand that we are entering someone’s home and enhancing an area that will be used more than others. We can try to script every scenario and make a policy or procedure to ensure that customers are satisfied and feel valued. The best in this role possess the demeanor and service mindset to recognize and head off situations we never thought of. They won’t need someone to inspect the quality of their work. They won’t need a checklist to tell them not to leave behind trash from the job. “Who they are” won’t allow them to accept that kind of result. 

On the other side of the coin, there are plenty of folks who can perform the mechanics of the work without the “gift work” that “the best” bring to every job. 

Becoming a great business requires that we develop this kind of understanding and respect for each and every role. We must become more adept at finding and studying the best and uncovering the talents that we need. Hiring new people then requires a new way of evaluating people to ensure that we hold out for exceptional fit. 

This shift takes time and effort, but the rewards are very real. Leaders not only see the performance show up in the business metrics, they find themselves less involved in the mechanics of the work itself. Engagement becomes a natural result of people taking pride in what they do best. There is usually an opportunity to capture growth because work is being done with less effort.

When a business goes through this cycle, the caution they must exercise is to understand that a great company can only grow at the rate it can hire the right talent. If we attempt to capture demand and compromise on our new hiring discipline, we will begin the fall back to mediocrity. 

So, my advice to leaders is that whatever business you think you are in, to be great, you must be in the talent business. 

To learn more about taking your business from “good to great” contact Dave Oakley directly at .

For more information on Synchronous Flow, contact Ed Hill at Synchronous Solutions, .