Bob had a successful early career in large account sales, and is now in his second role as leader of a national accounts group. His team sells complex systems integration services to the company’s largest customers. Many of his people have technical and engineering degrees. They are usually quite clever in helping their clients solve complex problems; but they are a bit slower than he would like in developing social relationships that lead to greater business development success over time. Last year, he hired Fred, a candidate from outside the organization, to handle a steady client that appeared to have untapped potential for development. Bob realized that Fred might be a little light on the technical side, but assumed that his winning smile and great social skills would compensate and help him develop the business. As anticipated, everyone responded well to Fred, and he seemed to get a great deal of traction on the front end. But business has actually declined. Although Bob provided him with a more technical exposure and a deeper dive into the complexities of the services the company provides, Fred appears to be out of his element. Bob is now thinking about reassigning one of his other people to help with some of the technical difficulties the client appears to be experiencing. He has a sinking feeling that Fred might not be able to learn what he needs to know to represent the company in a credible manner.
We all know ascent is fraught with obstacles and dangers: but just getting there isn’t enough. Now the question becomes, “How do I stay here long enough to have a lasting positive impact on this place?” To do so, you must build a healthy, viable company that provides growth opportunities for people. You just can’t do that with toxic people (see the next chapter). A sad fact of life is that some people choose to do harmful things. But let’s talk about good people first.
In Good to Great, Jim Collins describes the characteristics of great leaders as being modest and even self-deprecating, yet also as having an unwavering ambition for the company. They never lose faith in ultimate success, but also face facts in a brutally direct manner. One of his adages is that success is a function of getting the right people on the bus and getting them in the right seats.
The leader’s ability to select and develop the right people is crucial to the success of any organization. In addition to Collins’s “First the who, then the what”, other people as diverse as humorist Leo Rosten (“First rate people hire first rate people, second rate people hire third rate people”) and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (“A’s hire A’s, B’s hire C’s”) emphasize the importance of getting the best people. A leader has no higher duty than choosing people who will ensure the future success of the organization.
What are the characteristics of the right people – those who will be good for your business and help foster a culture of success? Theories of personality can be conflicting and confusing. Some measures of personality lead to typecasting that doesn’t hold up when subjected to rigorous predictive analysis. Competency models used by many organizations to define the desirable characteristics of their people are usually too narrow. They can lead managers to look at the wrong things or ignore important aspects of “the whole person” when hiring or developing their people. Competency models don’t often differentiate between what can be taught and what could be an ingrained trait or ability. Some things simply can’t be changed or developed to any significant extent.
Having personally conducted many thousands of psychological assessments for business organizations, I still sometimes find it difficult to understand and integrate the multifaceted and often conflicting data gathered in the assessment process. The framework described in this chapter, however, has helped me stay focused on the most important factors in assessment and in coaching for development. It can also help you make better selection and development decisions in your own organization.
We can all get better at just about anything. In spite of the fact that there are apparently hardwired traits, abilities, and characteristics, improvement is possible. If we define the right kind of goals, pursue them with the right strategies, and monitor our progress, we can improve. Psychologist Heidi Halvorson has offered compelling evidence for the dynamic nature of human ability in her book Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals. This is quite encouraging, and has broad implications for self-development, coaching, parenting, and for educational applications. As with anything worthwhile, progress takes insight, planning, time, and effort.
Unfortunately, unless you’re running a well-funded early career developmental program, you don’t have the resources or time to bring in raw material and nurture it to full potential. If you’re a typical recruiter or hiring executive, you need competent people with the talents and skills necessary to hit the battlefield in full stride. A quote attributed to Lewis Pierson, businessman and former president of the US Chamber of Commerce in the early part of last century, describes your situation: “Business is like a man rowing a boat upstream. He has no choice; he must go ahead or he will go back.” If that was true nearly one hundred years ago, it’s certainly so now.
This is not to downplay the importance of good management and leadership practices; but unless you’re hiring for entry-level jobs, you simply don’t have the luxury of providing the long-term nurturance, coaching, care and feeding of new hires necessary to develop them to full potential. At least, not in the time frames you face. Although people have great capacity for improvement and development, for your purposes, your candidates typically need to look more like the finished product than a work-in-progress on certain key factors. They must bring with them the appropriate traits and aptitudes that enable them to learn, adjust, and make a contribution, in relatively short order.
The necessary business skills can be learned relatively easily and quickly. It takes more time to move the needle on these more deeply ingrained qualities. Long-term and enduring patterns of behavior are traits. An old nugget of business wisdom is “Hire for trait, train for skill.” But if certain traits aren’t in place, some skills won’t develop, no matter how hard one tries. To hire or promote the best people who can quickly become assets in our organizations, we must act as if some things are innate.
In previous writings, I have described the I-Competencies: the Intellectual, Interpersonal, Integrity, and Intensity factors. These characteristics are generally hardwired, at least for the context and time frames within which a business leader must operate. Think of them as head, heart, guts and will. These are the foundation competencies: the result of genetics and the values and attitudes one absorbs from early family and societal or cultural influences. They are fundamental, and cannot be developed quickly or significantly by training, coaching, or experience. In this respect, they differ from surface competencies such as formal presentation skills, spreadsheet skills, technical knowledge base, and so forth, which can be taught. Since you cannot change these factors to any significant degree, they should be targeted in your selection process.
The Intellectual Competency (Head)
This factor has traditionally been measured by standardized tests that predict success in school, but test scores alone aren’t enough. The Intellectual Competency, or general intelligence, encompasses mental agility, quickness and creativity, depth of knowledge, logical reasoning, and common sense. This factor is a combination of people’s unique mix of skills and abilities: and how well they use them to solve problems. People who make smart decisions and who use their talents effectively are more successful over time than those who make bad decisions or squander their intellectual resources. After almost one hundred years of scientific research on this dimension, the results are quite clear and unambiguous. This is the best predictor of job performance available. There are always exceptions to the rule: there are very bright people who never amount to anything and there are people of rather average intelligence who work hard and achieve great things. But the correlation between this competency and performance over time is clear and consistent across jobs and occupations. In the story introducing this chapter, Bob deals with the consequences of hiring someone who is not strong enough in this competency into an analytically demanding role.
The Interpersonal Competency (Heart)
No matter how clever you are, and how elegant or elaborate your problem solutions, if you can’t communicate them to others and convince others of their merits, it doesn’t matter. People who have good social skills and who get along with other people are much more successful as a group than those who don’t have as many talents in this area. They have greater influence in the group because others like them and feel good about them. The Interpersonal Competency is the key that unlocks the door of influence. It enables you to communicate the worth of your ideas. This competency includes general social and persuasive skills, social insight and intuition, likeability and persuasiveness. The Intellectual Competency enables you to solve the problem. The Interpersonal Competency enables you to convince other people that your solution is a good one.
The Integrity Competency (Guts)
This is broader than just the basic honesty-dishonesty dimension, although that’s a fundamental. This competency is the cornerstone of building trust, one of the primary factors of credibility. It includes general conscientiousness, discipline, and follow-through. People with high integrity meet their commitments within the time frames agreed upon, and according to standards expected, and let everyone know in plenty of time if the commitment can’t be met. Part of this competency includes the ability to focus, and to use your talents and aptitudes with appropriate discipline. This factor holds things together and facilitates trust and consistency of performance. The greater the perceived integrity, the greater the trust.
The Intensity Competency (Will)
This is the motivation factor. It includes energy, stamina, drive, and the ability to get fully engaged. People with high intensity are active, not passive. They are driven by a need to get things done and to see results. With proper control and focus, people with high intensity achieve at higher levels than those with only average amounts of stamina and energy. This is the fuel that provides force for achieving goals, and for staying motivated in the face of obstacles. It is often referred to as general drive or motivation. The more motivated you are, the more likely you are to achieve results, and consequently the greater your ability to influence others by virtue of your accomplishments and general credibility.
Although everyone can improve, some things take too long to change enough to make a difference in the business context and timeframe. Therefore, we must select people for specific fundamental and stable traits and aptitudes. These are foundation competencies: intellectual, interpersonal, integrity and intensity. These “I-Competencies” can be thought of as head, heart, guts, and will.