During my “sabbatical” I’ve had a lot of time to read and chat with a lot of people from different walks of life, or at least a lot of people who are team managers, recruiters, product managers, and generally high level muckety-mucks. The rabble have tended to remain quiet, which is good for rabble.
In any event, there is a common refrain amongst these otherwise perspicacious group (look it up … rabble) that I find either surprising or funny, depending on my mood. The common refrain is more of a complaint, really. The complaint has to do with the fact these people all seem to be having a devil of a time attracting, recruiting, and retaining the sort of employees you normally want as a manager. The people they (and the rest of us) dream of attracting and managing are intellectually curious, skilled, experienced, passionate about their career, and self-motivated. In other words, the people you don’t actually need to manage except in acting as a conductor who directs and helps enliven the work.
As some one who’s had a small amount of success building out teams apparently made up of these sorts of people, I sometimes am asked about my “secrets” or “techniques” as such. I’ve been hesitant to divulge my secrets for recruiting really good people, until now. I will now give you my primary secret/principle for attracting and recruiting top notch talent.
I try and be someone for whom I would want to work every day I’m at work. The rest of the stuff like training budget, high salaries, beer parties, and the like are largely either out of my control or somewhat superfluous. Here are the actual things you need to implement and practice if you want to bring talented people to you like ants to spilled ice cream.
Respect – Assume everyone on your team and on other teams (often more difficult) are reasonable, talented adults who can be trusted to do their work efficiently and capably. If you have reason to believe to the contrary, first check your beliefs. It’s more likely you are just using a different definition of “efficiently” and “capably” than they.
Openness – This one comes in two parts. You need to be somewhat explicit in your success expectations. You also need to be somewhat current and explicit your expectations are not met. Since we can assume we’re all adults (see above) we can also assume most adults really do want to do a good job. If you are open to them about how they can do better, they’ll usually surprise you by exceeding your expectations.
Honesty – Being honest usually goes hand in glove with being open, but it also implies consistency. No one likes aiming at a moving target or being told they messed up sometime in the past, when they’re no chance to correct it. Honesty is about communicating successes to be celebrated and failures to be corrected. It’s about engendering a reputation of trust so people feel confident enough to come to you with any problems or victories.
Interest – Everyone likes to think they matter to someone or something. For most people, this translates to the workplace even if only due to the amount of time we spend there. A good manager shows interest in their employees’ lives, professional ambitions, and daily toil. They also show interest in their own role and industry. Nothing attracts talented people in a certain industry more than the chance to work with others who share their interests. Nothing keeps talented people around more than knowing they’re valued and appreciated on a daily basis.
Availability – Finally you need to be available to your team as much as humanly possible. You never know when someone will need help resolving a thorny issue, overcoming a seemingly meaningless bureaucratic hurdle, or just want to kvetch in general about the injustice of it all. You also never know when someone will want to show off a brilliant solution to a problem or run a new idea by you to see what you think. You need to do paperwork and attend meetings, but your primary job is to manage a team of people … not resources. People (even adults) will stop coming to you if they feel they can’t count on you being available.
The other thing to remember is you often don’t have to spend a lot of time recruiting talented people. You can encourage your current staff to become talented. In order to do that, you may have to fire or transfer away anyone not willing to themselves practice the rules of respect, openness, honesty, interest, and availability. That’s the downside of building an excellent team, but there’s no way I can see around it. Some people do not have the personality or desire to be excellent. Aptitude is something you can work with. Personality is not. You can’t make some one excellent in spite of themself, but you can bring some one down.
In the end, I suppose that’s the one over-arching rule for success as a manager. Create an environment where people know they are expected to exceed and will be given every tool they need to get there. If you let them take charge of their own path to excellence, they will always surprise you with their capabilities and growth. If you force them down your path, they will always disappoint.