By Byron Moore
Originally published in the News Star and the Shreveport Times on Sunday, May 7, 2017.
Q: The most difficult thing in my business is finding talented people. Everybody’s a superstar on their resume, but when they come in for an interview it’s a different story. How do you find talented people?
A: Unicorns and all-stars are often hard to come by. In fact, I wouldn’t waste my time looking for either.
You want a terrific employee? Great. Find a decent person willing to work hard and smart and make your own super star – over time. Call it talent development by crock pot. If you think you don’t have time to do that, let me ask you how your current microwave method is working out for you.
Talent is overrated. And sheer tenacity may stubbornly repeat the same old mistakes over and over again, hoping to get a different result each time.
I’m going to assume you have the training infrastructure in place to get an employee up and running on the fundamentals of what you want them to do. You’ve got procedures manuals and someone (even if that’s you) to teach them the basics.
But you’re hoping for more than that. You’re wanting real talent in certain positions, be it sales, customer relations, industrial safety, company finance, job site management, human resources, marketing…if I’m reading you right, you’re saying, “It’s not enough to just get the job done…I need someone who can take ownership of this position and knock the lights out.”
Industrial consultant Edwards Deming went to Japan after World War II to help rebuild their industrial base. The methods he taught became known in Japan as kaizen, the Japanese word for improvement.
When Demings went to Japan, the label “made in Japan” was likely to illicit a smirk by American executives who viewed Japan as minor league competition. Due in no small part to their effective use of Demings’ methods, by the end of the 20th century Japan had wiped the smirk off those same executive’s faces by introducing cars and other products that would set the standard for excellence.
Demings’ method was deceptively simple. In everything you do: plan, do, check and act.
Come up with a written plan. That would be true for a sales call, a manufacturing method, a safety procedure, a construction schedule or an employee evaluation. If it isn’t in writing, you’ve got nothing to measure.
Then do the plan and check the results. Some stuff will work, other stuff won’t. That led to the final step of “act.” Act to repeat the things that worked and act to change the things that did not work.
On its face, it was a simple approach to executing and improving a business plan. The key was the ruthless application of step 3 – check the results. Nothing is sacred. Everything is up for analysis and improvement and everyone’s job is the step by step improvement process.
In his excellent book “Talent Is Overrated” (why yes as a matter of fact I did steal his title) Geoff Colvin does a great job of deconstructing the idea that talent – whether in employees, chess players or musicians – is only a result of in-born gifting. Much of what we call “natural talent” was cultivated by hours and years of what Colvin calls “deliberate practice.”
As Vince Lombardi famously said, practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.
Just like interest grows over time when it is compounded on top of itself, so positive results – in people and in projects – tend to compound over time when you repeat what works and change what doesn’t.
If this all sounds like hard, sometimes tedious work that will take a long time, you’re getting the picture. Every business says that their people are their most valuable resource, but precious few act as it that is true.
They say the best time to plant a tree is 30 years ago. And the second best time is today.
Save time by eliminating the search for unicorns and off-the-shelf talent. Even if they do exist, they are hard to find and everyone else is looking for them too.
Home grown super-stars take a while longer, but as Ed Demings would tell you, eventually your efforts at constant, steady improvements – especially in your people – will pay off.
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