Hiring The Most Talented People Isn’t Enough

22 June 2017 | Sutton & Rao emphasize this formula “Talent x Accountability = Scaling Capacity.”

Hiring the most talented people isn’t enough. When employees put their needs ahead of clients, colleagues , and the company— whether this results from personality, bad role models, or bad incentives— excellence suffers because they feel no obligation to mentor newcomers or help colleagues do great work.

Many, perhaps most, organizations that scale effectively get the job done by depending less on hiring fully formed superstars and more on selecting promising people— and then teaching and motivating them to do exceptional work.

Accountability works best when it is a two-way street
Hiring the right people is crucial for propelling scaling, but it isn’t enough. Unfortunately, too many leaders and gurus believe that, if they just buy the most skilled and motivated employees, exceptional performances will inevitably follow. They forget that team and organizational effectiveness requires weaving together people with diverse knowledge and skills— not just gathering a lot of talented people and hoping they can figure out how to work together well.

Trying to scale up excellence by purchasing lots of people who have done stellar work elsewhere is also risky because most stars aren’t portable.

When an external star arrives, insiders become demoralized; senior analysts often start looking for jobs elsewhere, and “junior managers take the star’s induction as a signal that the organization isn’t interested in tapping their potential.”

A tug of mutual obligation is created because being “owners” entitles and encourages employees to push themselves, peers, bosses, subordinates, suppliers, and sometimes clients to support exceptional performance. And being “owned” means that employees expect, accept, and work hard to meet high standards held and enforced by superiors, peers, clients, and customers.

Research on teams that make the switch from being led by a single supervisor to being “self-managing”is instructive when it comes to such accountability. The term self-managing may conjure up images of employees who slack off because they are free to do as they please. Yet several studies show that people feel more constrained—and accountable—in such systems. The pressures to conform and perform are harder to escape because each worker is beholden to every other team member rather than to a single manager or boss.

The dynamics also degenerate on teams that the outside saviors join: “Resentful of the rainmaker (and his pay), other managers avoid the newcomer, cut off information to him, and refuse to cooperate.”

Leaders should spend more time and money on encouraging cooperation and information sharing among existing employees, on developing technologies and procedures that enable exemplary work, and on using training and mentoring to develop their own stars.

In other words, as we see again and again, the quick fix rarely works when it comes to scaling. Yes, having money to spend on talent can be helpful. But beware of spending money as a substitute for doing the deep thinking and demanding work required to instill, spread, and sustain excellence.


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