Good to Great

My company is in hiring mode. We want great people who are good. Business guru Jim Collins wrote the classic, “Good to Great,” highlighting great companies. “Greatness” is defined in wikipedia “as financial performance several multiples better than the market average over a sustained period.” In the transactional world of public markets, it’s easy to measure high performers. Apple is great. So are Nike and Google. So should you automatically hire their people?

In his book, Jim Collins put together a nice primer for hiring leaders that can help you scale. It’s something worth examining: Level 5 leadership

Then you realize it’s extremely hard to measure individuals and find Level 5 folks. Steve Jobs was great. Most successful founders are great if you focused purely on business acumen and results. But they may not be Level 5 and in fact, could drive folks away. What about the person who joined Apple 2 years ago and is employee #97,000?

It’s an inexact science trying to find gems in the haystack of great companies. So you have to focus on the individual regardless of their pedigree. You look at longevity, like-ability and results. Presence is important especially if you need folks who are customer-facing. In many ways, customer interactions are like a night in Vegas. You either win big or lose everything. But what happens with each customer interaction stays forever. Good customer-facing people are hard to find.

They are much harder to find than people you would never trust in spite of a general’s pedigree. For example, the church-goer or temple devotee often exceeds the performance of the dilettante philosopher. Right now nearly everyone looks good on paper. Faith as a criteria is good for measuring predictability. I would rather hire someone with a belief system or even dedication to an art or yoga over someone who is dabbling. Too much social media noise is a warning sign. I’ve turned the volume down myself. One of my mentors once told me he looks for solid citizens who are not too ambitious, just willing to learn and add value wherever they are needed.

So who are the good people you need to be looking for? I look for people with purpose, passion and a track record of giving back. Someone with a humble attitude and a soldier’s tenacity is deserving of opportunities to become a 10x coder or salesperson. Ultimately, you want a friend for life.

The path from good to great is a character-building exercise. Never judge a book just by its cover.

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