A Successful Business is a Direct Result of Your Ability to Detect and Attract Star Performers
We were in the board room last week with three business partners. The mood started out light and expectant.
They want to remodel their company so that it stands out in the market place, is seen as the ‘go to’ company in their industry.
Becoming a “Go To” Company Means Learning How to Manage Risk
Which means they have to take on risk. Risk means they will restructure their business so that they are delivering value in a unique way, rather than copying how competitors in their industry conduct business. They want that ‘go-to’ company status. Risk will mean learning how to do things quite differently than they have in the past.
Change is in the air and it is uncomfortable. Are they really up to the challenge they have set for themselves?
There is a big risk that their gambit might not pay off. These guys are in their early fifties. All their liquid assets have just become illiquid with this decision to invest in growing the company.
Whenever a company takes on risk, they need steady hands at the wheel and out on deck. These partners all have skills the company will need. But they can’t do this alone. They are going to need a cracker jack team of people doing the work and leading the teams that will collaborate on their ground-breaking solutions.
It’s Your People That Make or Break Company Performance
That means hiring people, not just with skill sets needed for the ride, but star performers that know how to pull people back from the abyss of failure or mistakes that is part of the risk taking journey. What they had now was a group of head down followers, not risk-taking self-responsible managers.
We talked about what was important to them. I summarized their thoughts. “You need leaders who have learned how to lead in a way others can follow. Mentors who can transfer critical knowledge. Role models for great communication so you can build a culture of collaboration.”
They all nodded.
The room stayed silent. I looked at each of them waiting for what was hanging in the air. The mood changed in that heartbeat like an elevator suddenly dropping too fast.
The senior partner looked at his colleagues, and then down at his hands. He swallowed hard. “We have no clue how to hire people like that. In fact, I would say that the last three people we’ve brought on have been a total disaster.”
The biggest risk, the elephant they had all been avoiding was now standing in the board room.
“I have to take responsibility for these hiring mistakes. I am always in a hurry to get the next person on board. I have to do more than just slow down, don’t I.” He wasn’t asking the question. He knew he had to change his style.
And in that moment, they all realized that they couldn’t take on the risk of becoming a ‘go to’ company until they owned up to and dealt with this elephant.
He was asking for help. There was a collective sigh of relief. Hope returned. Progress was possible if this partner was willing to learn and change.
How to Identify a Star Performer During the First Interview
In our work over the last 23 years helping entrepreneurs grow their companies and make some of those businesses saleable, we are often asked how to find and identify star performers in the interview process.
This article by John Murphy does a splendid job of laying out what you really want in a star performer who can help you build the business which is quite distinct from the functional skill set that you think you want in a critical hire.
Once you are clear on the kind of human being you want, you now have to develop an interview strategy. We always start with designing interview questions in such a way that they reveal how the candidate would handle typical workplace scenarios.
We give them an overview of where the company is going and the challenges involved in remodelling the business to become the definitive brand.
Then we use scenario questions. Rather than ask “Tell me about your experience leading a department” create a question with specific context and challenge, then request a description of how they would proceed.
EXAMPLE QUESTION: “What are some of the strategies you have used to gain access into new markets? How do you set the stage to find the right prospects, prepare your team to take on the competition so you get in the door with the right decision makers and build your reputation in the face of stiff competition?”
How do you evaluate their answer? You want to know they are able to:
- Describe a process to achieve this result
- Describe creative and effective strategies
- Share past experiences and lessons learned
- Understand the critical elements to plan implementation
- Identify the elements that constrain and hamper business unit teams
Do they cover all the technical bases AND attend to the people involved? How do they back up their suggested plan – is it all theory or are there experiences shaping their response?
During the interview you also want to listen for:
- “We” language, rather than “I” language or worse, no pronouns at all. People who are star performers share credit and are able collaborators.
- “Active Listening” skills. Star performers clarify your questions, don’t leap to assumptions without checking them out and ask if what you heard is what you were looking for.
- “Transparency” means that they can share how they learned the hard way, what attitude adjustments they made because of a lesson learned. They can laugh at their foibles in a way that points to the humaness in all of us, rather than framing it as ‘stupidity’ or self-deprecating themselves.
- “Self-Responsibility” is a hallmark of a Star Performer. They can distinguish what their responsibility is and what belongs to someone else… in a non-blaming way. They don’t hog responsibility, taking away work from others when they perceive it isn’t being ‘done right’. Nor do they shirk it and pretend they didn’t have any role.
- “Triangle-Free” language – there is little drama in the stories they tell: no villain, no victim, no hero. No drama triangle. Just the facts, without embellishment, adjectives, dramatic tones of voice or finger pointing.
- “Style Adaptability” which you can visibly see in the interview. A star performer builds rapport and relationship based on the cues that you give out and their own intention to create a good atmosphere in the interview. You want that kind of person in your management culture because they settle down the drama. People feel secure with a manager who can adapt to their own unique style.
- “Contextual Descriptive Skills” This is the ability to describe a previous job responsibility so you understand the dynamics of the situation, deconstruct how they approached dealing with the challenge, relate what worked, what didn’t and what they learned.
One of the best interview candidates I ever met had this talent in spades. When asked how she would approach setting up a performance review system, she first describe her philosophy about performance reviews and made clear distinctions about what was important and where problems crop up.
Then she described the training program she developed for a previous employer to help managers really learn to say what needed to be said to correct behavior or mentor in the moment and during a performance review.
She won the job when she popped open her brief case and showed us her ‘marketing material’ to be get buy-in from managers so they would adopt her training plan. Needless to say, the company culture is thriving under her adept leadership.
Watch for these Red Flags During the First Interview
The following things should give you pause before extending a second interview:
- Defensive body language
- Defensive attitude
- Stiff responses and/or body language
- Mood swings when the subject changes
- Never smiling
- No pronoun use
- Excessive long windedness
- One word answers
- You don’t feel comfortable in their presence
- Use of clichés to explain ‘what happened’
- Use of sentence fillers ‘you know’, ‘if you know what I mean’, ‘right?’, ‘gotcha’
- In ability to explain the context and philosophy of how and why they make decisions.
- Imagine this person managing you. How would you feel being at the end of one of their directives?
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What Do You Think?
What have I missed? What red flags do you look for? How do you uncover your star performers? Share your experience on how you help bring out the best in your people to drive success in the comments below.