First Who, Then What – Talent Drives Strategy

Recently our team read the book Good to Great by Jim Collins. I realize the book is almost 20 years old, but some timely themes emerged. In these unprecedented times as organizations struggle to emerge and re-open safely in a COVID-19 world, we are in uncharted territory. 

Chapter three of Good to Great keeps resonating with me. Expecting to find that a new strategy, vision, and direction was needed, executives would then find the right people to execute that new strategy. That seemed reasonable to me, but actually the opposite was true. In those Good to Great companies, they first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and then figured out where to drive the bus. In this case, the bus is analogous to your company or organization. In other words, it began with “who” rather than “what”- leaders who can more easily adapt in a rapidly changing world, which is the very situation today with COVID-19.

The belief of these Good to Great Level 5 leaders, as backed by the research, was to inject a constant stream of talent into the organization. They hired outstanding people wherever they found them, often without any specific job in mind. They could see the challenges ahead and were flexible enough to deal with those changes. Those leaders who built great companies understood that growth for any great organization is not markets, technology, competition, or products – it’s the ability to attract and retain enough of the right people, the right talent.

As leaders of your organization, you understand that the best people do not need to be managed. Perhaps guided, taught, or led, but not tightly managed. If they need to be managed, the person in question might not be in the right seat on the bus. If honest and able people are not performing, perhaps they need to be moved to find the right place to blossom.

The old adage, “people are your most important asset” perhaps should be changed to, “the right people are your most important asset.” Another key point that resonated in the Good to Great companies was the “right people” referred to those with traits like character, work ethic, and dedication to fulfilling commitments and values, which are more ingrained. While things like educational background, practical skills, specialized knowledge, and work are important, these traits can be viewed as teachable or learnable. When talking with hiring managers, they often start out with emphasizing leadership, values, and character. At times they will default to knowledge, skills, and abilities over innate traits – even if one small learnable skill is missing. I challenge you now more than ever not to fall back to old habits. Hire the right people with the leadership skills. My guess is you already have many skilled experts. Leadership is much harder to come by.

In summary, as we enter the next phase of opening up of our economy in our COVID-19 world, think about hiring the right people and best available talent, the “who vs. what” as talent drives strategy. Continue to hire those who are smart, flexible, problem solvers, and who can see the changes and challenges ahead – and deal with them head on!

Mark Mueller

Mark Mueller 
Mark is a seasoned business executive with more than 25 years of experience. He has a strong background in financial and business operations management with a passion for business results, leadership, and achieving goals in a collaborative team environment.  Mark personally leverages his Gallup Strengths: Context, Harmony, Achiever, Responsibility, and Consistency.  Mark is excited to bring you the Aureus Group portfolio of staffing/recruiting programs including project staffing, direct hire, interim executives, and retained search. Mark has a bachelor’s degree in Finance and Business Administration from Loras College in Dubuque, IA.  Mark also earned an MBA from the University of Rochester William E Simon School of Business located in Rochester, NY.

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