9th March 2017

Start With Who

I make no excuse for flagrantly repeating the advice Jim Collins gave in his all-time classic book “Good to Great” when he advised us to get the right people on the bus, in the right seats doing the right things right. I was privileged to be able to go and meet Jim this last week when he came to London to speak. I was also a part of a two hour private audience with him after the headline event.

Among the many pieces of wisdom was the constant repetition of the mantra, “first who then what”. First decide who is going to be part of your team before you decide on what business you are going to build and what you are going to do. It got me thinking at an altogether deeper level about the importance of getting the right people. Whatever business we are in it is the people who are the main differentiator between a good company and a mediocre company and between a good company and a great company, yet how much time, how much effort, how much expertise do we exert in making sure we have absolutely the right people? We tend to recruit infrequently and amateurishly. Most of the businesses that I have met in my experience have no robust and well thought through process to make the challenge of recruiting as fail safe and fool proof as possible. When challenged, most business leaders don’t really know what they are looking for when they start recruiting and so are almost guaranteed to find something else.

The world of sport, for all of its faults, does seem to have understood that the best teams are likely to be made up of the best people, hence the simply stellar transfer fees that are currently being commanded by the best players. How much effort does the average business put in to finding, attracting and recruiting their equivalent of the ‘galacticos?’ I wonder. Very little I suspect.

I recently watched a you tube video interview of Jorge Paulo Lemann, who is one of the richest men in the world. He ascribed his success to the great people and teams that he had constantly surrounded himself with. It is a strange thing but Richard Branson says something very similar. In the beginning, Lemann says that he must have interviewed about a thousand people to fill ten jobs. He describes himself as having an incredible obsession with constantly searching for the right people and then with the never ending process of developing them and growing them. At one point in the interview he said that he simply had to make a 50 billion dollar business acquisition as he just had too many great young people who were hungry to do great things. How many of us can say that we have to develop our business because our people are so good they will walk if we can’t give them something more expansive and challenging to do?

The greatest business skill of all has nothing to do with business. The greatest business skill of all has to do with people. If we can’t understand, communicate with, read, inspire, lead, listen to and   respectfully challenge people we can never really start with who. The more we can do these things, the more the very best will want to work with us and the more the best want to work with us the more we can pick and choose our own dream team. We tend to attract the people we deserve and if we truly believe that we should start with who, the first who to start with is ourselves. As Jim Rohn said, “For things to change, you have to change. For things to get better, you must get better.”