“I hire people brighter than me and I get out of their way.” – Lee Iacocca
One of the most important pieces of advice I got from my first management mentor was to hire outstandingly good people. The second most important piece was to get out of their way… fast. It sounds funny, but the truth is that too many managers bottleneck processes and tasks. Have you seen it happening in your company or at a company you worked for? I bet you did. It’s that classic case when 6 team leaders run after their manager on the corridors in a desperate trial to get an answer to the email they’ve sent 2 days ago or an approval for a proposal that is already urgent. It’s the case of teams of more than 10 people waiting for an approval or a feedback from their leader for some project they are motivated to get going. It’s not that their leader doesn’t want to answer, it’s just that he’s busy. However, I’m pretty sure that his team will no longer be as motivated after 2 days of waiting in vain and filling up their time with other less meaningful tasks.
From A players to Z players… good enough is often the enemy of great
In today’s world when most of our focus is on technology, innovation, business strategies, it’s funny how little attention is paid to the most important asset of any business – the team. Technology doesn’t build itself, you need an amazing motivated team… of A players.
In case you are wondering what I mean about A players and B players, it all comes down to this famous quote: A players hire A players, B players hire C players and C players hire D players. Not entirely sure who coined the phrase, but I know it was attributed to Steve Jobs as he believed in it and used it pretty often. By A players, the quote means performance-driven team members, focused on self development, motivated, engaged and innovative. Free thinkers that have unreasonably high expectations for themselves and others. A players are those employees that act as if they were company owners. They are proactive and never afraid to take initiative. B players are the team members that do just enough to be OK and be paid for it, and of course you can imagine how it goes from C players to Z players.
“Every person you hire who is not a top player is like having a leak in the hull. Eventually you will sink.” – Jon Soberg
As Jim Collins was stating in his book Good to Great, good is often the enemy of great. That’s exactly why B-C-D players are so bad for your business. They do their work on the edge of survival, it is hard to make up your mind and fire them as they are doing their job… But that’s exactly it! They are merely doing their job. They are not striving for excellence. They are not focusing on performance. They are not those who will make an impact on your company, on your market, on your team. They will not move you forward.
And why is it that B players don’t hire B players, but actually C players? Well, apparently experience shows us that it’s exactly the A players who are not afraid to delegate responsibility and authority, are not afraid to teach and praise their teams and they are never afraid to hire people that are even better than themselves in their areas. B players and the rest of the alphabet focus much more on office politics, on keeping data for themselves, worrying about hierarchies and keeping the C players they’ve got in their teams below them. You can imagine then how the more the company grows, the more alphabet letters performers you get in your company… all the way to Z and all the way to a company you will no longer recognize.
“When you’re in a startup, the first 10 people will determine whether the company succeeds or not” – Steve Jobs
Exceptional leaders tend to feel less threatened by hiring talent as they know that if their team starts running 100 miles an hour, they will do their best to run 110 miles an hour. On the other hand, B players and C players (hope we limit the conversation here) feel threatened of outstanding talent in their team and do their best in keeping these excellent team members in their corner.
Hiring the best not only gives you great team performance, but also makes it easier to recruit new people (A players wish to work with other A players, so imagine the A-player “epidemic” your company will soon catch), makes your employees more engaged (A players motivate their teams, build a high energy environment and also a competitive one) and makes it easier for you to retain employees over time.
To have an A-team… you need to be an A-player yourself
OK, so I hope I’ve made my point on why we are interested in A players. At the same time, in order to attract and keep A players, it is equally important that you don’t bottleneck the A-player managers you are hiring. How do you know you’re bottlenecking? Well, if every team member needs your input and approval for almost every task, no matter how repetitive or unimportant, then you most probably are.
You may feel like you are in fact protecting them and helping them do the right thing, but in fact it may be that you place yourself in the way of others and in the way of business progress and productivity.
How do you make sure you are not the bottleneck, but the leader?
Here are a few simple tips than can surely help:
- ask your team if there is anything you can do to ease their work process;
- delegate both responsibility and authority;
- accept that mistakes do happen. It is good to be a perfectionist, but people in your team should have enough space to make their own mistakes and learn from them. It’s called self-development. You only need to make sure it doesn’t cost the company a lot;
- stop micromanaging, start leading;
- optimize workflows and decision making processes so that you make sure nothing can go wrong without you knowing it, but at the same time you make sure your colleagues don’t trip over your approval.
To sum up, it is of utmost importance to get the right people in the boat (and what I mean by right is highly-motivated, extremely-passionate, highly-skilled individuals) and to put them in the right position so that they give their best. When all this is taken care of, make sure you let them lead, let them take initiative and pull your company further.