Selection and Excellence

For those who have read my blog over the years, you know that I do not believe in team building. Many of you have also voiced your opinion about that perspective. After more than 40 years of management experience I have not changed my mind. I still do not believe in team building. I believe that the strength of one person makes a difference in organizational outcomes. It takes more than one person who demonstrates their individual strengths in order for success to be realized but it is still one person at a time that makes the difference. The most important aspect of this process is the ability of the manager to recognize and then support these individualized strengths. Most often the manager does not know how to recognize, support or develop any of the individuals’ strengths, talents or skills. As a result, the organization does not move toward excellence. It may stay the course but innovation and growth is not evident.

I really do not care if workers do not work together as a team. I do care if one or two individuals are set on making a difference based on individuals’ needs or desires or have little consideration for the needs of others. Work groups, in order to be successful, must be concerned about the needs of others. They must develop a level of trust that knows no boundaries and are willing to self-disclose to each other about what is important and true to their hearts. Yes, group work is complicated and requires a great deal of work in order to be truly successful.

I used to think that anyone could fit into a work group based on the right manager. I have changed my mind. Directed totally toward self and not toward the needs of others will not support group success. It also only takes one person to move the bar from excellence to failure. Again, as evidenced through this process, team building is really non-existent. In other words, concentrating or requiring individuals to work together does not really work. Forming a pattern of caring about the needs of others is what makes the difference.

Individuals who care only about their own needs will never understand excellence. Each job or project these internally directed group members take on becomes so individualized that they forget what the real need might be. In simple terms these individuals are selfish. They care about one thing; Their own success and not the success of the group. Understanding the needs of others takes a lot more effort and many, but not all, internally directed individuals think that level of work is not worth the effort. It is always worth the effort, even to try and get these individuals to think differently. It usually does not work.

It is always about the needs of the whole organization. Look at a football or basketball “team” for an example. There are two examples that need consideration. The first example is when a team has a “star” the “team” functions only when the “star” is functioning at the highest level. Once the “star” is gone the team fails. In the second example you will see the “team” fail when the star is present. This is because the only direction of the group is a function based on the needs of the individual “star” and not the needs of the group or organization. The common goal, mission, reason or outcomes is not important. The goal of one person is all that counts. It is about the functional outcomes related to the needs of one person without any consideration for the others in the work group.

You have seen this happen in all types of organizations. It is not about the type of organization. In order to have a very successful football team your excellent performers must all provide excellence in their jobs. That is the individualized part of a work group and not a team. As great managers we need to have a level of discernment that good managers do not have and cannot see. This means we must discover the talents, strengths and skills of the individual and then encourage them to run with excellence.

The key for all managers is to select the right people for the right job. This starts with some type of formal assessment and then discernment that may be different from the norm. This could be a personality assessment or job functional analysis but the key is to match the individual’s talents, strengths and skills to the job. This is a difficult task. We are often required to hire warm bodies with beating hearts and not the right talents, strengths or skills for the job.

The ideal would be to match the job to the set of talents, strengths and skills. This can be accomplished but you must work in an organization that is willing to take risks and trust the ability of the manager to complete this matching process through the formal assessment. This is an extremely rare situation even in the most progressive organizations. Therefore the most practical approach is to match the person to the job. Again, this task requires almost continuous performance improvement and assessment by the manager in observation of the employee or manager accomplishing the job. Most managers do not take the time; have the skills or interest to make this a reality. As a result retention is less than 50% and training or retraining becomes the most important aspect of the group. Hiring the right person for the right job becomes secondary to everything.

Taking the time to understand what is really needed in a job takes a lot of effort on the part of any manager, director, VP or CEO. The next phase is to match the right person to the job. I have done this for the better part of my career. I see the essential parts of the job and then look at the talent within the organization. If the talent is not present I look outside the organization but this is rare. Once I complete the formal assessment it is clear what is needed for what position and then I move individuals into the best organizational fit. This is accomplished without much feedback to my supervisor. It is far too much work for most managers to take this kind of time but it is vital to the success of any organization and I have proved this over and over again.

Once the assignments are made, the job of making it all fit together starts and that is when the real work takes form. Allowing those who have the talents, strengths and skills to do what they need to do is always a challenge. That means you must give up ownership to another person in order for the task, project or outcome to happen. Again, this is a very high risk for a majority of managers and you must stay with the process every day. Allowing one person to rule the process without some degree of understanding about what is happening will upset the balance between who is doing the work and what work is being accomplished. This is a daily operational process and never stops, even when you think you have finished the outcome or process. Once you see the end is near, it is time to enhance or change the outcome to ensure excellence is taking place.

Great managers manage with excellence, always. There are no options. I do not believe we actually make it to the level of GREAT but like most things in life it is a journey that is worth challenge. Selection of the right person is the first step in your great manager process. Before you start down the road I believe you need to make sure you are up for the challenges and failures you will endure. The one thing I know is that if you do not start you will not finish. So START…

About Jim Jones

Jim received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in Human Resource Development and has over 40 years of management experience in 5 different industries. He has consulted for Raytheon, Century 21 and Motorola. He retired in 2005 as the Sr. VP, Human Resources for Trident Health System (an HCA facility). His specialty is talent-based organizational development.. Jim has recently accepted a position with Shorter University as the Associate Vice President for Online and Professional Education. Shorter University's primary campus is located in Rome, Georgia. His role will include the strategic management of online programs for the university to include the College of Adult and Professional Programs located in Rome and Atlanta. Dr. Jones is looking forward to helping change the lives of those he touches every day in the pursuit of excellence in adult education. This includes students, faculty and staff.
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