Leadership Retreats Resources

Who > What

October 7, 2017
Lead Organizations
Russ Sarratt

Organizations who give precedence to recruiting top talent and employing them to fill key roles within the organization are the most successful over the long-term.

In his classic book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t,” Jim Collins lays out an idea he calls First who, then what. Collins’ research found that the organizations who gave precedence to recruiting top talent and employing them to fill key roles within the organization were the most successful over the long-term. This proved to be even more important than a new, compelling vision or strategy.

Collins uses the analogy of a bus (the organization) and a bus driver (the leader). The goal is to get the right people on the bus, and to get them in the right seats on the bus. It is not necessary to have 100% of the seats filled, but it is imperative to have 100% of the key seats on the bus filled.

Once you identify the key seats for your organization, how do you go about finding the right people to fill those seats?

Know your values and cultural expectations

Before you add someone to your bus, make sure you are fully aware of and convinced of your values. How can you ascertain whether anyone is a good fit when you cannot clearly articulate your standards and principles? Identify the handful of values you would not sacrifice for any reason. Look for people who already value those same things.

Know what you need and what you want in the role you seek to fill

What are the skills, experience, and perspective that you would like to have in the role? Be as specific as possible; this is your chance to pinpoint what your team needs. Once you have a profile of the ideal candidate, go a little further and determine your list of “non-negotiables.” What are the qualities you absolutely must have in this particular role? Hold fast to this list.

Conduct realistic job interviews

Past performance is the greatest predictor of future success. When interviewing candidates, perform an interview that will give you the ability to assess them in the real world. Create an on-the-job scenario and give the candidate opportunity to show his or her skills and values as she or he resolves the virtual issue at hand. For example, have a sales job candidate make a pitch to a group of “potential buyers.” Gather a group who will act out the roles of buyers and give you feedback on the presentation. The process is the same whether the candidate is internal or external; make sure anyone seeking a promotion will not be promoted beyond his or her ability to perform.

Involve the people already on the bus

Leverage your team to help you fill the empty seats on your bus. Your best recruiters are your current team members; give them the chance (and incentive) to help find the kind of people you want on your team. Beyond developing a pool of good candidates, you will also get more buy-in from your team from the beginning. Also, include your team in the interview process. Your current people know your culture well and know what gaps need to be filled on the team. Their involvement could take the form of participating in on-the-job scenarios or panel interviews. Get them involved!

The “first who, then what” mindset can be a game changer for the strength of your organization. Carefully guard your bus’ passenger list. Having the right co-travelers can help your team avoid future conflict and will build the overall strength of your team.

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