How to Hire Talent

The first step in building a high performing team is to hire talent. Without talent, it is very difficult to achieve success. Use these hiring best practices when building your team.

Consider this thought experiment. You are back at school and one of the activities is tug-of-war. Your job as captain is to select a team of five fellow students to be on your team. Your rival is captain of the opposing team. You get to pick your team mates first. Who do you pick? Do you select for kindness, humor and smarts? Or do you select for height and strength?

"Great things in business are never done by one person; they're done by a team of people." – Steve Jobs Famous Quotes
Step 1: Invest in the right talent for the position you are looking to fill.

If you select for humor and charisma, and the opposing team captain selects for strength and determination, who would you suppose will win? What would it say about your leadership skills?

If it is your job to select the team but you select team-members based on less-than-optimal criteria, you have failed as a leader.

The Truth About Being Captain of the Team

Much credit is given to the captain of the winning team. A manager is given similar credit for her team’s success. But if the team is already in place, the manager must skip the first and most important step in the 4 Steps to Building High-Performance Teams: selecting talent.

If your team is already selected for you and you fail as a team, huge leadership skills may not amount to much. If your team is selected for skills and talents that are not relevant to the task at hand, training, measuring and celebrating will have only a marginal effect. If your team is funny and charismatic – skills worth having to be sure – but lack the physical stature of a much larger and stronger opposing team, there is little chance the team will win in the example of the tug-of-war.

The tug-of-war example illustrates the need to know what it takes to put together a winning team. As the leader of your team, you must know what talents, strengths, traits and abilities your team members need to achieve success. Each member needs to have the basic aptitude for the work ahead of them.

Select for Talent – Hiring Best Practice

As a hiring best practice, the first step is to identify what talents a team member needs to have for the position you are looking to fill. Don’t assume you already know this.

"The main thing to do is relax and let your talent do the work". – Charles Barkley Famous Quotes
“The main thing to do is relax and let your talent do the work”. – Charles Barkley

An important hiring best practice is to solicit different perspectives on answering the question, “What are the essential talents and abilities needed in this role?” If you are hiring for an accounting role, it might go without saying that an aptitude for numbers is essential. But a numerical ability may not be the only ability a successful bookkeeper will need. Attention to detail, conscientious care and attention to procedure, a strong work ethic, concentration skills – these and other abilities might constitute some of successful traits for the role you are looking to fill.

Talented Team

To enumerate all the aspects of a successful contributor to your team, you will want to ask the team for help. If the prospective employee is going to work in a department with other successful team members, ask the team to write down what skills and talents they believe are key to the success of the individual in the role. This will give you insight into two areas: what talents and capabilities you need to be looking for in a new employee, and how well your team knows what attributes they must bring to achieve success.

Under-Performing Team

If your team is under-performing, you need to look outside your organization for help with articulating the successful traits required. The best place to start is with assessments.

Assessments – Hiring Best Practice

Buy PXT Personality Assessments

Ask your friends and colleagues in your industry groups and associations which assessments they use. You will be amazed at how high performing managers all use assessments to evaluate the talents of the team members both before and after they are hired.

Once you have found a good short list of assessments from colleagues you respect, it is hiring best practice to start discussing your goals with the consultants who retail the assessments. Often, the sales organizations who market the assessments have sales consultants who are experienced in business and can help guide you through the process of identifying and assessing talent.

With some assessment companies, you are able to benchmark candidates against a range. In some case, you will request already successful team-members to take the assessment to help you identify what traits and beliefs contribute to their success. Using the assessment scores of the high-performers, you are able to identify how potential candidates will fit the role you are hiring them into.

Develop an Avatar for the Open Position – Latent Qualification Analysis

To develop a picture of a top performing associate in the position you are hiring for, answer these questions in as much detail as possible. These questions are used to uncover the latent (unrevealed) qualifications needed for the candidate to effectively perform the work.

We use the word “avatar” to suggest there is an ideal candidate that can be constructed through the latent qualification analysis (LQA) below. By answering the questions, a picture of the ideal candidate will emerge. We can even give the avatar a gender-neutral name like “Charlie“.


Who is Charlie? – Latent Qualification Analysis Questions

  1. A top performing associate has these innate character traits:
    1. Trait 1
    2. Trait 2
    3. Trait 3
  2. A top performing associate has these core beliefs:
    1. Belief 1
    2. Belief 2
    3. Belief 3
  3. A top performing associate has this experience on his/her resume:
    1. Experience 1
    2. Experience 2
    3. Experience 3
  4. A top performing associate in this field does these activities regularly:
    1. Activity 1
    2. Activity 2
    3. Activity 3

By taking the time to complete this Latent Qualification Analysis (LQA) exercise, you will have a clearer picture of the type of person you are looking for. Having an avatar of the ideal contributor for the role you are hiring for and giving him/her a name like “Charlie”, you will be better able to know which personality assessments you need to use. You will also have a scoring system in place for the candidates who apply for the position, and you will have a guide for the interview phase.

Best Practices in Hiring Business to Business Sales Professionals

The best practice in hiring a business to business sales representative is to look for specific qualities and comparing them against the avatar, “Charlie”. Using the avatar approach above, let’s define what makes for an ideal business to business sales professional. This way, we can use the technique to demonstrate how an avatar is created and provide practical advice for hiring talented sales professionals like Charlie.

Innate Abilities

The key innate abilities, that is, how a sales rep is wired, include the following:

  1. Highly committed
  2. Optimistic
  3. Innovative
  4. Hard working
Highly Committed

Success is our only goal! When we describe our ideal candidate as being highly committed, we mean that our avatar Charlie (or ideal candidate) thinks the goal of achieving success is worthwhile and will not lose sight of that goal or substitute that goal with another goal.

When evaluating whether to hire a candidate for a Sales position, you will want to look at their level of commitment. Unlike a sales reps’ desire to want to win, you want to understand if they are also driven to achieve success by doing what ever it takes.


Success is achievable! Prospective sales professionals need to have the view that taking action is worth the effort.

A precondition for accepting a goal is the belief that the goal is achievable. You
don’t want to hire the candidate that says, “Success is our only goal—too bad it’s impossible. Why bother?” Learned helplessness is difficult, sometimes impossible, to unlearn.

It is important that the sales rep’s world view is one of abundance. The opposite of this approach would be a world view rooted in scarcity and a fear of losing what you already have. Successful sales professionals are hard-wired for optimism.


New strategies will succeed where other strategies have failed! A sales rep needs to be innovative. A deep-seated curiosity in the world around her and an interest in continuous improvement shows up in successful sales reps as innovation. If a potential sales rep is innovative with herself and the tools she uses to win new business, she will have a greater chance of success.

Innovation means substituting or building upon existing solutions by adding or substituting solutions from other domains of activity. It doesn’t mean abandoning efficient solutions to common problems and trying something untested
instead. Random experimentation is not innovation. However, bringing automation that has been successful in another field into your own field is innovative. Look for this innate ability.


I want to learn from my colleagues. It is important to get unconditional love from family members. From everyone else, we should be looking for negative assessments of our performance that we can use to improve. Being coachable means being open to instruction and negative feedback. If someone tells you that you are doing a great job, ask for suggestions to do an even better job. People who set mastery goals for themselves (for example, I want to get good at this) outperform those who set performance goals (for example, I want a good score).


Maximum effort will ensure success! When you look at successful, professional business to business sales reps, they all share the three qualities above. They are high-commitment individuals, with a positive outlook on the opportunity they are given, and they are innovative in their approach to create and close new deals.

When you look at unsuccessful sales reps, one key defining quality exists: they don’t work hard enough. Hard work can overcome weaknesses in many areas. If a rep is not charismatic, not gregarious, if he is withdrawn and too highly structured, he can still have success if he works hard. But if the sales rep does not work hard, no amount of sales talent will make up for the gap in performance between a hardworking and a task-adverse rep. The bottom line is, the successful rep must take action and continually push himself to do more than the competition. Look for this trait in the business-to-business sales professionals you are looking to hire.


Three core beliefs that pertain to business to business sales reps are:

  • “I am the source of all my results. No circumstance is more powerful than me.”
  • “My customers are busy, important people. I need to bring value to their operations in everything I do.”
  • “Communication is everything. I need to be a better communicator to achieve better results. Documentation is an important part of effective communication.”

When you are looking to hire a sales person, it is a best practice for hiring business-to-business sales professionals to look for the following experience when reviewing resumes:

  1. This is not their first Sales position. They have had a history of selling in a commissioned role. You want a person who knows they want to sell for a living. Allow someone else’s company to weed out the first time sales reps for you.
  2. They have had some structured Sales training. The candidate knows that Sales is not only personality driven, but in fact is in large part process driven.
  3. They have used a CRM (customer relationship management system) in previous work. Luddites are albatrosses in today’s business environment. Avoid fighting the technology battle with the unwilling.
  4. If the role is business to business sales, the sales professional has experience calling on a similar role and knows some of the essential industry jargon.

Look for the candidates’ Sales habits and willingness to engage in these essential tasks. They are tasks that sales professionals must perform regularly:

  1. Time-blocking – a successful sales rep calendarizes all to-dos by putting tasks on her calendar for execution.
  2. Prospecting – a successful sales rep finds the time to regularly engage in prospecting for new business.
  3. Business card management – every day, new business cards are added to the contact management database (Outlook, CRM, etc).
  4. Meeting follow up – after a first meeting, the rep sends a handwritten thank you card.

The Interview

The goals of the interview is to have a friendly conversation that provides you with an understanding of the candidates’ innate talents, fundamental beliefs, experience and habits under the strain of being evaluated. It is a hiring best practice to make the interview as friendly as possible.

My approach has almost always been to try to set the candidate at ease before and during the interview. If the interviewee is nervous, she will be guarded and restrained in how she answers the questions. It does not help the interviewer to gauge her abilities if she is overly anxious and her anxiety gets in the way of her having a productive conversation about joining a new team.

Therefore, it is a good idea to allow the interviewee an opportunity to create rapport with her interviewers. Ask and answer a number of yes/no questions. This will help develop trust between you and the candidate. Observe her ability to connect with the panel. Will this person try to fit in with the tribe she is about to join? Will the tribe accept her readily. These are important factors to her long term success on the team. Being able to trust and connect with the people around her is an important trait.

Most people have an idea of how an interview will go. Unless he is straight out of school, the candidate has likely been on at least one interview. And the usual way of interviewing a person is to ask about his educational and work background and then ask about his strengths and weakness. This approach usually elicits pat responses and therefore a poor evaluation of the interviewees fit to the position.

To give the interviewee the opportunity to speak at length on a subject. Ask lots of open-ended, who-what-why-when-how questions and allow the interviewee the opportunity to answer openly. You are looking to evaluate the candidates demonstration of how she fits the avatar above. You are looking to score her on the four aspects that paint a portrait of the ideal candidate.

  1. Innate abilities
  2. Beliefs
  3. Experience
  4. Habits

The above list will guide you towards which questions to ask. The answers will either meet or not meet the criteria you are looking for. This should be a simple check list. Every time you hear the candidate demonstrate one of the four criteria above, you will be able to see if she meets the overall fit of the job.

In addition to collecting the avatar fit data, you will want to evaluate whether the candidate has the foundation for success. In my experience, when an employee is less than successful within an organization, it is because one or more of these four preconditions for success are missing.


4 Aspects of Performance

Be Reliable

Reliability is a person’s tendency to make promises and keep them. Try not to think of this aspect of performance from a moral point of view. Try not to judge an individual as being good or bad with respect to this aspect. The fact is, when an employee is reliable, their performance is predictable. Predictability reduces tension with others and allows for work to be achieved with reduced effort. Therefore, reliability is an indicator of workability, not morality. Keeping the definition of reliability in more practical terms is less emotive and therefore easier to measure and talk about.

Be Real

A person’s ability to be real about themselves is an important aspect for workers to connect with each other. If an employee suspects another employee of holding back, of being insincere and of faking it, trust is diminished between co-workers.

One way that an interviewee expresses being real is to say at the beginning of the interview if he is nervous, or excited or anxious. This helps the interviewer interpret what she sees.

It is also important for the interviewer to be real in the interview. Clearly stating the intention of the interview and giving authentic feedback to the candidate allows the prospective employee understand the relationship he will have with you as his manager in the future. If your interview is candid, frank and real, your future relationship with the employee has a chance of taking on the same nature.

The opposite of being real is the idea that you can “fake it until you make it”. Being fake doesn’t work. The person “acting” and “pretending” may feel convincing to a person in the moment, but the performance is never convincing to anyone else. They may just go along with the act hoping the person calms down enough to be himself.

Never fake it. Be real with others and they will have an incentive to be real with you. From there, a trusting, productive relationship is possible.

Be Empowered

An employee who feels empowered and believes she has an impact on the business will be engaged and energized. A person who feels inessential to the company will show up as apathetic and disengaged.

Some employees carry with them a conviction that they do not matter. They start the day with the attitude that “it has nothing to do with me”. They opt out of taking a stand. This is a sign of a low commitment player who is there for the activity but not for the result. Therefore, it is crucial to explore ideas about responsibility and empowerment with potential employment candidates.

Working in a low commitment company is like going to a concert and waiting for the band to arrive. Everyone is looking in the same direction, but no one is willing to take the lead. Reluctance to take action kills productivity and leads to low performance.

Hiring for engagement will help turn around the team. Testing for this engagement during the interview is therefore a key focus for you as a leader. By choosing an individual who will take responsibility for his or her performance, is a crucial leadership moment. Then, from the moment the candidate is hired, intentionally fostering the belief that “I make a difference” will transform the workplace from a passive culture to a performance culture.

To gauge the empowerment of a prospective employee, ask about accountability in three verb tenses: past, present and future. The easiest place to start is to ask about the future. Ask how the candidate will be accountable for his success, then move backwards. Ask about his responsibilities now and how he is performing within that role. Finally, ask about how he was responsible for both the successes and failures in previous endeavors. Look for empowerment. Watch to see if the candidate blames others or his circumstances for under-performance.

Be Positive

The fourth and equally important key aspect of performance is to have a positive attitude. The attitude manifests itself as, “I am capable of being something greater than I currently know myself to be” and “Though the road may be difficult, I can get there“.

Isn’t this the very ethos of the American dream? The people who arrived on Ellis Island would not have come if it hadn’t been for the dogged belief in a better tomorrow based on sheer determination and grit. This spirit of enterprising optimism underpins American performance. Look for it in the people you hire.

If you do not detect an attitude of, “it won’t be easy but I can do it”, you will find under-performance. The opposite attitude sounds like, “I can do it if the circumstances are right and I get enough support“. Or worse, it sounds like, “I am not sure I can do it, but I can try“. Never hire anyone who is willing to “try“. It may sound agreeable, but buried in the word try is an element of failure.

Consider the following thought experiment. Imagine a situation where a doctor tried to save the man’s life. In this simple statement there contains the element of failure. “I tried, but” is a phrase that is linked to failure. Admonish those around you to never try to save your life. Just do it – just save my life! Trying inevitably leads to failing.

Why We Interview

Heidegger famously said, “Language is the house of being“. What he meant by this was that language is more than just words. Language forms thoughts and thoughts produce action. In fact, without the appropriate word, science tells us that we cannot have the thought.

Helen Keller said that before she had acquired language, she did not have thoughts. She had feelings, but no thoughts. She wrote later, “When I learned the meaning of ‘I’ and ‘me’ and found that I was something, I began to think. Then consciousness first existed for me.”

In this way, we have direct evidence that language is more than just being a vehicle for communication is in fact the basis for thoughts themselves. We think in words. Words matter.

If your candidate expresses himself and uses words in a way that leaves you without a clear picture of reliability, authenticity, responsibility and optimism, you do not have a high performance candidate. Without these four aspects of performance, you will have an associate who does not pull the tug-of-war rope in the same direction as the rest of your team.

Therefore, your job on the interview is to ask basic, open-ended questions that allow the candidate to demonstrate her four aspects of performance and paints for you the avatar you have created for the position. Create a list of specific attributes to look for and then listen for those attributes in the interview. If you don’t hear them, challenge the candidate to understand why he was given an opportunity to demonstrate his abilities in the interview and didn’t.

Panel Interview

Panel interviews are an important tool to gauge a candidates fit for the position. Be sure to bring in interviewers who will later work closely with the candidate. You want the interviewer to have a vested interest in the successful candidates performance. You also want to smooth the way towards the new employee being accepted into the tribe.

If you are the senior manager, and a manager junior to you is requesting to bring a candidate into the company, invite the junior manager into the interview but forbid her to speak beyond a brief introduction of the members of the panel. Many times, the manager who brought the candidate forward is already sold on the candidate. That junior manager may see her own reflection in the candidate and miss seeing the key aspects you are hiring for. Don’t allow her to coach the candidate to speak for the candidate.

By inviting the junior hiring manager into the interview but asking her to remain silent you create a coaching opportunity. If the interview does not yield a successful candidate, then will have insight into the junior managers’ ability to recognize and recruit talent.

Use the panel interview as an opportunity to take the hiring manager aside and coach her on what you saw and what she may have missed in the preliminary interviews that led up to the panel interview. Help her see what you see by having her recognize how her preliminary interview and the panel interviews were different. Ask her how she will approach future interviews based on what she learned from the current interviewing process.

The Evaluation of a Candidate

When evaluating a candidate, you will want to take the resume, the assessments and the interview into consideration.

The resume is where you started to look for the experience, talents and basic aptitude for the position. Reading the resume, you will be considering the basic educational background needed for the job. You will be looking for the work experience that will help shorten the time it takes for the candidate to become productive in the position. And you will be assessing if she has most of the skills needed to become successful in the new role.

The assessments will tell you if the person has the thinking style, numeric and verbal ability, the pace, positive outlook, sociability, independence and manageability you are looking for. Some assessments are ideal for sales positions and assess the candidates sales skills and commitment level.

The interview is where the candidate is able to demonstrate their four aspects of performance and core beliefs. The interview is where you can test the candidate for their sincerity and empowerment. Use the interview to understand their basic human principles. Are they honest, thoughtful, compassionate, committed, hard-working?

Work Ethic

If one of the core beliefs you are looking for is a strong work ethic, you will want to ask questions that will surface this. One of the methods to uncover a person’s work ethic is to ask a question about the candidate’s earliest work experience. Author of the book, The Winning Manager’s Playbook, John Cioffi once told me that he had found a direct correlation between a person’s age of her first paid employment and the person’s work ethic in later life.

I recently asked a particularly hardworking former colleague of mine about his early work experience. He is well-known in the TOYOTA network as being tireless in his work routine. He told me that before the age of fourteen, he ran a small lawn care business, cutting grass and clipping hedges for his neighbors. Kyle was successful enough to build his small business to the point at which he owned two lawnmowers and other power equipment. When many kids were still focussed on comic books, he was investing in capital equipment.

From the age of fourteen until he turned fifteen, he took a job in construction hanging drywall. At the age of 15, he worked at the State Line restaurant in El Paso, starting as a busboy and working his way up through the kitchen and finally to the front of the house. He did this six to seven days a week all the way through college until graduation.

Understanding a candidate’s early work history helps identify work ethic. In many cases, a candidate who has worked hard all her life will also be hardworking on your team. Listen for work ethic experience in early life to see if there is a pattern that will likely continue.

Bringing It All Together – Hiring Best Practices

Now that you have all three elements, the resume, the assessments and the interview, you are able to score the candidate.

In my experience, it is important to bring all three elements together when making your hiring decision. If the candidate’s resume is strong, then you know she has the experience and skills necessary for the job. If the Assessment is strong, you can know the candidate may have the talents needed. In the interview, you are able to understand whether the candidate has the 4 Aspects of Performance. Taken together, you are able to make an informed decision on whether to hire the candidate.

Innate Abilities – Hiring Best Practice

Some might argue that innate abilities should never be considered because most talents can be taught. I am not sure this is true.

In my experience, a person is either driven or not. He is hardworking or not. He introverted or extroverted. In each of these cases, a employee can create strategies to work around innate abilities, but under pressure those innate tendencies will surface.

Therefore, it is important, and a relevant and a hiring best practice to put the right talent in the right jobs. If the candidate struggles with math, it is obvious that he might not be suited for an accounting job. Similarly, if the person is shy and self-effacing, Sales might be a role that absolutely terrifies him.

It is a hiring best practice to look to place candidates in roles in which they will flourish. If they have the innate abilities for the role, they will enjoy their work and bring enthusiasm and vigor to it every day.

Experience and Skills – Hiring Best Practice

It is a hiring best practice to look for candidates with the experience needed to start producing positive results quickly. Although skills and experience can be taught, it is time-consuming. Do you have the time to invest in your candidate as they develop into the employee you need?

For entry level positions, look for entry level candidates – employees who will trade hard work for on the job training. For senior positions, look for experienced candidates. If you have the training resources in place, you can transfer skills and experience to your new hire. If you don’t have training resources, look for experience in a candidate and expect to pay a premium for that knowledge.

4 Aspects of Performance – Hiring Best Practice

Each of the four aspects of performance have varying degrees of coach-ability.

For Reliabilty, although it is sometimes coachable, in my experience, I have not had a strong track record of being able to instill the importance of making promises and keeping them into unreliable team members. There are some people who just do not believe that being reliable matters.

Being real takes a long time to coach. It really speaks to a person’s ability to trust themselves and others. If you witness an employee being fake with you, confront it immediately and request the person be more authentic. Some will recognize what they are doing and change. Others will fight you on the request and put you into unwinnable conflict with them. It is best to avoid this conflict from the outset before you hire them.

To be empowered is a question of responsibility. If the employee cannot bear to be responsible for the things you need them to be responsible for, it is difficult to change their point of view. The reason is responsibility lands like blame for some people. For others it lands like personal power. Those who try to avoid blame at all costs will struggle on a team of highly empowered teammates.

Being positive, is learned. If the focus of your conversations are always about how the past just doesn’t measure up, your employees will feel defeated and dis-empowered. Similarly, you can change the way your employees think by focusing always on the future. The TOYOTA way is to set goals, measure against the goals, identify any gaps in performance and then generate countermeasures to close the gap. The approach focuses on what is possible to change in the future instead of what is impossible to change about the past. If your people are less than optimistic, look to how you communicate with them – you may be the source of the negativity.

Conclusion – Hiring Best Practices

Hiring and retaining talent is the most important thing that a leader does. If the leader is unable to identify talent through the careful analysis of her department’s needs, she will not be able to hire the best candidate for the position. If the leader is unable to recognize the talents and aspects of performance needed for the job through the application and interview process, then she will equally have a very hard time building a high performance team.

As a leader, focus first on your ability to recognize and attract talent into your organization. Inspire high-performing candidates to want to be a part of your team. Once your team is set, move on to creating an extraordinary training culture.

Other resources worth checking out:

Lean Warehouse Ideas

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4 Steps to Building High-Performance Teams

Companies want high-performing teams. But few know how to build them. Each time I have been invited to join a company in a leadership capacity within the Toyota Industries network, I have been tasked with fulfilling on this need by changing the status quo. There has always been some problem identified by the hiring manager that the company needed help in solving. They knew what they wanted to change, but didn’t always know how they wanted to change it. It was up to me to figure it out.

Over the years of growing within these organizations, and being a part of their leadership and growth, I saw what works and what doesn’t work in building high-performing teams. Each time I have been tasked with growing a new team, I have been better able to articulate the steps needed to achieve team success.

Today, I can clearly express how to build a winning team. Indeed, if I could get in a time-machine and hand this leadership information to my younger self, I am certain that the young, energetic and enthusiastic manager I was would have been eternally grateful. It would have saved me from making many of the mistakes I made and smoothed the trajectory of my teams.

Without the benefit of that time-machine, I instead offer this advice to new and experienced managers alike. The topic of leadership is deep and wide. There is enough advice around to fill many books. Although we can in this article distill the advice into short bullet points, it will be worth reconstituting the ideas again in the future. Therefore, I leave much of the detail and specifics of how to follow this advice to later posts. For now, I’ll at being pithy and succinct as possible.

There isn’t a book or resource I’ve found that lays the leadership advice out in four neat steps. So I provide this guidance here for new managers and experienced leaders alike, to fill a void.

Look for links embedded in this article. They will point you to more detailed explanations and specific advice.

The 4 Critical Steps to Building High Peforming Teams

There are four steps to creating high-performing teams. No more, no less. Although they are simple to articulate and understand, most managers have a tough time executing each step.

Each of the four steps are in a specific order. It is very difficult to achieve success by taking these steps out of order.

Step 1 – Hire Talent

Hiring talent may seem like it is a simple objective, but it is easier said than done.

Here are some of the reasons why hiring managers struggle to hire talent.

  1. Hiring criteria is arbitrary. Many hiring managers know what they don’t want, but can’t clearly articulate what it is they are looking for.
    • Can you write down the 3 or 4 character traits you are looking for in the role?
    • Do you know what specific talents you are looking for?
    • What experience is crucial to the success in the role?
    • How will you identify these character traits, talents and experience? How will you score each of these when deciding in favor of one candidate over another?
  2. The hiring manager is charmed by the reflection of themselves in candidates and hire in their own image for all roles in the company.
    • How are you objectively scoring a candidate?
    • How will you parse their abilities from their charm and charisma?
    • Who is involved in the hiring decision? What steps are you taking to avoid the ego-trap of hiring in your own image?
  3. High-potential candidates cannot see a brighter future for themselves on your team.
    • Can you clearly articulate what future you are building for the team? Does it inspire you? Does it inspire others on the team?
  4. The hiring manager hires the candidate who is available instead of waiting for the right candidate.
    • Have you clearly defined what your goal is for the current hire? Is this a forever hire, or are you hiring for a shorter-term goal?
    • What is the future of this candidate once the team has reached the short term goal? Will there be a place for him/her once the goal has been achieved?

Adding Talent to an Already Strong Team

If you already have a strong team, it is natural for an outsider to want to join the winning team. But adding talent to a winning team is not the same as building a winning team.

In a weak team, there is a culture and an expectation for under-performance that you need to shift. There are specific ways to do this which I will layout in later articles.

On a strong team, hiring is just as important. Simply sustaining an already successful organization is easier to do, but by no means easy. You may have seen this in action. You may have watched a new manager take over a team and, slowly, you notice, the performance and overall caliber of the team diminishes. You wonder why.

Later, another manager takes over the flagging department and the team is breaking records again. Why is this? If you investigate the hiring practices of both the successful and less successful manager, you will understand why. Go back to the four reasons for above and look for these pitfalls in the hiring approach.

Step 2 – Invest in Training

Training is the first thing that gets canceled when an organization is short on resources, time or commitment to the future. It is easy to see why this short-sighted practice is a problem.

Henry Ford said famously: “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”

The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay - Henry Ford (famous quote)
The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay – Henry Ford (famous quote)

Henry Ford’s advice is well-taken. Many managers hear it and endeavor to fulfill their duty to provide training. The problem many they face is the specifics. They don’t know where to start.

  1. Why should we train?
  2. What should we train?
  3. When should we train?
  4. Who should we train?
  5. How should we train?

The best place to start is to answer #1. Why should we train? It is all about where you are currently and where you want your team to get to.

Why should we train?

Look at the outcome you want for your team. Ask yourself, if they were already trained, what would they know and how would that help? The “why” is answered by the destination. When you clearly articulate where you want the team to get to, you will be able to justify the investment of time and effort. With the destination clearly understood, you can start to work backwards and create a training plan with milestones along the way for how you are going to get to your training destination.

A symptom of an untrained team is how busy the manager is. As the team becomes more competent, the manager finds she has less to do. Over time, she finds that the focus can be adjusted from tactical, get-through-the-day type goals, to strategic goals.

  • How busy are you?
  • How competent is your team?
  • How much time do you invest in training?

Answer these questions and you will discover the source of your workload. The manager is usually promoted to the role due to their competence in producing excellent work, and the expectation is that competence is transferred to the team. The transfer of knowledge rarely happens in the short term without following the 4 Steps to Build a High-Performing Team.

What should we be training the team to do?

Once you have defined your why, you can start to work on the what. What should we train becomes a simple act of filling in the blanks.

When you have defined the destination of what a fully trained team-member looks like, you can identify the component parts of the curriculum.

EXAMPLE: As a result of some team analysis of a forklift dealer, we recognized that the most successful account managers on the team were able to articulate the value of the dealership (aftermarket), were experts in each of the classes of product we sold (classes 1, 2, 3) and were excellent in providing a detailed demo on each lift truck model, understood racking, conveyor/sortation, the fleet management software, and they were well-versed in selling skills. Based on this, we created eight training segments, which we covered over eight 12-week periods. In this way, at the end of a two-year period, the team had completed training on all eight segments for the team.

After only two years, results improved, morale improved and we recruited higher-quality talent. Training became the foundation for our success.

When should we train?

Whenever you introduce new training, the complaint from the team will be, “This training is taking me away from my job, I don’t have the time to train.”

Therefore, it is very important that training take the form of bite-sized chunks. Schedule times of the day, week, month and quarter that do not interfere with the business you are in. It also needs to be relevant.

Who should we train?

Everyone in your organization needs training, but not everyone needs training on every topic. It is important to identify the topics for training, then identify roles that need training.

Training needs to be role specific. Each role in your organization needs a training plan to identify which training they need.

Look at your whole organization and ask, what is it that everyone needs to know? Create a general training for every associate, then specialize the training for each group. You may decide that every manager in your organization needs situational leadership training, but only operations management needs 5S training. Make sure you clearly document who should be trained on each topic. Then include it in your training plan.

How should we train?

When one teachestwo learn.” ― Robert Heinlein

My experience learning Hapkido in Korea taught me a lot about effective training. I noticed that the master of the martial arts academy trained very specific people. His time was focused on the strongest and most senior individuals in his school. He then delegated to his senior pupils the responsibility to train the next tier down the belt ranking system. They delegated their training to belts immediately junior to them. In this way, every level was responsible for training the level directly below them. Black belts trained brown belts, brown belts trained purple belts, etc. The master audited everyone’s mentoring and put the weaker mentors into remedial training.

This approach reminds me of TOYOTA’s PDCA cycle. PDCA stands for Plan, Do, Check, and Adjust.

How to Use the PDCA Cycle in Training

In Korea, I experienced the PDCA cycle in action. In the martial arts , the plan is the belt curriculum. The curriculum is documented and clearly defined. When the senior belt teaches the junior belt student, this is the do. It is the execution of the planned teaching curriculum. Once the curriculum has been taught and practiced, the master comes around and audits the senior belt’s teaching and the junior belt’s assimilation of the curriculum. This is the check part of the cycle. If either the teaching of the skill or the assimilation of the skill is found wanting, the master pulls the senior belt away, reinforces the senior belt’s knowledge and ability to teach the skill and then task the mentor (senior belt) and mentee (junior belt) to review the curriculum again. In this way, the PDCA cycle continues until the junior belt is an expert in the curriculum and gets his black belt.

Therefore, it is crucially important that a successful mentor-mentee relationship be fostered within your organization. Using the PDCA cycle, you will build skills in both the mentor as well as the mentee.

When on teaches two learn - Robert Heinlein
Create a culture of learning at your company

One of the companies I worked for in a leadership role, made the Mentor-Mentee relationship the signature focus of his organization. Every year, this forklift dealer, held a training academy, the company’s management training event. Every supervisor or manager who was invited to be a part of that year’s academy was required to either have a mentor or to mentor someone throughout the duration of the academy.

In this way, knowledge and experience passed from senior member of the team to more junior members of the team. Additionally, lifetime friendships and trusting relationships were formed within the organization.

Step 3 – Measure What is Important

Failing to measure leading and lagging indicators that will drive your business forward creates confusion and anxiety. All team members need to know what the measurements are and what activities will get them a stronger result.

When I first joined Raymond Handling Solutions, we did not have a way to identify top performing account managers. We knew we wanted to identify top performers, but we didn’t have benchmarks to discern who was doing well.

At my previous employer in Canada in 2005, performance was a very private affair. Low performing sales reps knew who the top performing sales reps were by their “master status” conferred on them after 10 years of experience. They also knew they were doing well by the luxury-brand cars they drove.

What did not work about this approach in was that a person’s financial success might have mistakenly been attributed to the opportunity the individual had or the favors he received from upper management. Sales reps might have believed that their paychecks were tied to the largess of their employer instead of how they structured their deals. There was no direct line of logic between how a rep was paid and performance. It was all a big mystery.

I was at Raymond Handling Solutions (RHSI) in Los Angeles when we introduced our Sales scorecard. We were looking for something to celebrate and needed the data. The scorecard was simple. It documented the performance for each category of product we sold, and it was sorted by Gross Profit (GP). Therefore, the highest GP producing sales rep was stack-ranked at the top of the chart and the lowest GP generator was at the bottom.

Ranking based on GP was the perfect measurement for the team. It aligned with how the sales reps were paid (a percentage of GP) and it aligned with the goals of the company: profitability.

In this way, you need to choose a measurement that is meaningful to those who are being ranked. If you are paying salespeople on GP, but measuring units sold, it will be difficult for the sales team to connect the dots. The team will focus their energy in directions the company may not want to go.

Notice that by simply measuring performance and putting those measurements up on the wall, you shift the conversation. I remember one senior sales rep telling me how he had sold $2.5 million in gross sales revenue. When I asked him how much GP he had produced, he wasn’t sure. When I asked him what he was paid on, he told me GP. So, in this situation, we found a sales rep who was putting his energy into one measurement but being paid on another. The result was he and the company he worked for were dissatisfied. He didn’t feel appreciated and the company wasn’t getting what it needed.

Once the measurements for GP were put in place that aligned the senior sales rep’s activities with how he and the company were getting paid, performance improved almost immediately.

Step 4 – Celebrate the High Performers

Companies that fail to celebrate the high performers create an “in it for the paycheck” culture. Associates hold back on commitment and wonder privately or sometimes out loud: “Why bother?”

The argument against celebrating this: How can we celebrate until we hit our company’s goals?

So, you end up getting stuck. On the one hand you don’t want to celebrate anything until there is good news to celebrate, and on the other, until you start celebrating achievements, albeit small ones, the culture of achievement never takes hold.

Therefore, the solution is to find something to celebrate at every meeting. If you can’t think of anything, ask the team for help. Ask them: “Who should we acknowledge this week and why? ” or “What can I acknowledge you for this week?”

Sound goofy? Perhaps, but not celebrating anything is worse.

When the door to the Executive Meeting room opens and the meeting lets out, notice what the folks in the office do. You will see that any admin sitting near the meeting room door will instinctively look up. He will notice the mood and expression of those coming out of the meeting and will make up a narrative that either the company is doing great or the company is doing poorly. And then that energy and interpretation colors his conversations for the balance of the day.

A man is but a product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.  Mahatma Gandhi famous quotes
Find something to celebrate every time your team meets