Sunday 24 August 2008

Hiring the people that will outsmart us

The second person I ever hired was an alcoholic
In my first job as a manager at the age of 25 I hired about 20 people in one year. At the time it was all about filling headcounts with nice people that could sell themselves to me. As long as they had great social skills I was less worried about qualifications, background checks and actual ability to do the job. I ended up hiring alcoholics, mentally ill and people that simply lacked any ability to do the job. After this experience I took a break from management and worked as a consultant for 3 years. During this time I learned the value of working with truly great people. A great programmer could produce 10 times as much in the same time as the average person and one single great sales person could mean the difference between success and total failure for a smaller company.

Who are the best people?
My ambition since then has always been to find the truly best people I can get for any particular job. Best to me doesn't mean the most renown university education, highest paid, most work experience or that everyone has previously worked at McKinsey. Best simply means that the person has one or more skills where they exceed everyone else in the company and most people in their own area of expertise. I want people that are brighter, faster, more quality conscious, better leaders, more socially skilled, better negotiators, have bigger networks, smarter engineers or more innovative than myself, our existing team and our competitors. It's all about building a team that will together contribute to making the companies the best and most innovative at what they do.

Managing people that are smarter than you
But how can you manage people that are better and smarter than yourselves? This is certainly a challenge in many ways. The first couple of times employees criticised my decisions for being stupid, the company strategy for being wrong or the work I produced for lacking quality or edge I got really upset and tried to defend myself even if I knew that the criticism was spot on. I figured that the only way I could remain the leader and role model was if the perception was that everything I did was great and always the best for the company.

Soon I realised however that getting constructive criticism and feedback from the team was the best thing I could wish for. It should be encouraged and being a role model is not about always being right but rather about taking advice from other people that are smarter than you.

The next challenge is to get the smartest people to work together as a team but that's a story for another day...

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