Say what you will about Jack Welch, he had a keen eye for identifying the right people and putting them on the fast-track. You may not share his views on “cutting the fat”, but everyone can learn from his approach to spotting and developing potential in talented people.
First – the “Why”
The intellectual capital within your company is arguably your most valuable asset. Especially if you sell services rather than products. Not only does it make sense to maximise that by giving high-potential people the space to develop their talents most fully, but if you want to retain your most capable people, you need to match their “employee experience” to their potential.
Where do they want to go? How can you help them get there? If you have a future CEO on your hands, and you don’t give them sufficient room to realise their ambitions, you will lose them – sooner or later.
By the same token, maybe you have someone who is perfectly happy managing their territory. They do a great job of it, deliver the results, and have absolutely no interest in the trials and tribulations of people management or climbing the corporate ladder. Or maybe they do want to climb the ladder, but although they are a great salesperson, they have no aptitude whatsoever for management.
In either case, bad things will happen if you try to push this person up through the organisation. Up to and including the implosion of the company (I’ve witnessed this first hand – more than once).
So, onto business.
Achievement measured against experience
The first major thing to look for is the person’s record of accomplishment measured against their experience level. By which, I mean their ability to do more with less. After all, it’s far more impressive for someone to be a resounding success in a job which they have never done before, than it is for someone who’s been doing that same job for ten years.
This is why using experience as a criterion for qualifying candidates is so absurd. If you rule people in or out based on their years of experience, you are guaranteed to get mediocrity more often than not.
What to look for: A track record of achieving more than their peers, in less time and/or with fewer resources. A history of spearheading initiatives, or taking on projects, above their “pay grade” or experience level.
Drive to go further
There’s a big cultural trend nowadays against ambition. It’s said that you should take time to smell the roses, enjoy a comfortable life, and above all, have balance.
I have nothing against that. Not everyone wants to be CEO – and that’s why the division of labour is a beautiful thing. There’s a place for everybody. But for someone who does want to become CEO, there’s little room for balance.
So the second thing to look at is, maybe this person has an exceptional track record for the past 15 years, of doing more with less, but do they still have the same fire as when they started? Do they want to continue down this same path for the *next* 15 years?
People change. Their priorities change. Maybe they’ve done the hard yards, got what they wanted, and now want to sit back and reap the rewards of their past investment in 70 hour weeks. That’s fine too – but this kind of person isn’t going to be on the fast-track for the future.
What to look for: Evidence of ongoing commitment to self-development. Intrinsic motivation (challenge, progression, opportunity) rather than external motivation (status, prestige, money).
Don’t take what they tell you at face value. A lot of people manage to convince themselves that they want something when they really don’t.
One of the biggest lies of our time is that “you can be whatever you want to be”.
I have a natural aptitude for sales, marketing, pattern matching and systems thinking. What I’ve chosen to do with my career reflects that.
I have no aptitude whatsoever for advanced mathematics, programming and similar highly detailed technical pursuits. And keeping fit has been a life-long challenge for me. Although I probably could work as a developer or outdoor pursuits instructor, I would never excel at either.
Hard work can beat talent, but the combination of both is what creates stars. Different jobs require different aptitudes – that someone excels as a salesperson and has the ambition to reach the top does not necessarily mean they will make an effective Chief Commercial Officer.
Ask yourself: What abilities will the future leaders of our company require? Does this person have an aptitude for them – and the IQ and EQ to match?
These three pillars in combination will give you a well-rounded picture of a person’s ultimate potential.
This article was written by Harrison Wright Managing Director