It’s my opinion that today’s “best” practices of leaders not only fail to resolve the problems they’re meant to resolve or achieve the results they’re meant to achieve, they actually escalate problems. I’d like to recommend alternative practices to take their place. After all, reality has shifted and those who cling to old practices that no longer serve them and perhaps never did, will fail to thrive. Seriously. Fail to thrive.
Today, I touch on the second “best” practice and hope to provoke your thinking, in subsequent entries, regarding all six.
Human connectivity, as opposed to strategy and tactics, is the next frontier for exponential growth and the only sustainable competitive edge. Competitive edges such as technology, design, cool tools and products are quickly lost as competition catches up.
Might the competition eventually match your ability to connect with people? Yes, I suppose and hope so for the sake of us all, but the vast majority of companies and their leaders don’t recognize human connectivity as the pot of gold that it is. In fact, the words “hiring smart” produce over 23,000 hits on Google. Business leaders have failed to grasp the implications of Daniel Kahneman’s Nobel Prize winning discovery that people make decisions first for emotional reasons, second for rational, that the tie breaker, the place to increase revenue and profits resides in the area of human connectivity.
The time is fast approaching when the word will be out. You’ve no time to waste. So here we go.
“Worst” Best Practice #2: Hiring for Smarts
I am a fan of Deadwood, HBO’s Shakespeare-goes-to-South Dakota-during-the-Gold-Rush hit series. During Keith Carradine’s interview of David Milch, the creator of Deadwood, Milch said, “Reason is about seventeenth on the list of attributes that define us as a species and as far as I’m concerned, they can lower it, no problem.”
I’m with David and with Albert Einstein, who said, “We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality. It cannot lead; it can only serve.”
Don’t get me wrong. We need smarts, but Descartes’ statement: Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) implies that thinking is the be all, end all. It isn’t. We need smarts and something more.
Perhaps you’ve already noticed that a focus on hiring smart people is a practice that is causing more problems in your organization than it’s solving. For example:
- Excessive certitude. In meetings, people stubbornly cling to their ideas (sometimes, at length!), in an attempt to impress others with the brilliance of their thinking. Their goal is to influence. It does not occur to them that an equally valid goal would be to be influenced, to have their own learning provoked. Nothing new emerges because individuals are focused on being right, rather than on making the best possible decisions for the organization.
- Excessive use of jargon. Three-letter acronyms (TLA’s!) have their use, but when did we determine that no endeavour is respectable these days without a TLA? And consider words like “componentize”, nigh unpronounceable, which apparently means ‘to turn into a component. For what purpose will remain a mystery. I digress. The point is that internally and with customers, jargon lands like a stone.
- The competition is surpassing you. You pull several all-nighters, spend significant bucks preparing your pitch to a prospective customer. You have a brilliant solution or product and know it will work. You go to the meeting higher than a kite, leave the meeting with a not-so-good feeling in your stomach, and learn that the customer went with the other guys. You lose sleep for days wondering WHY? Hint: they liked the other guys better. Yes, “liked” them better.
- “Loyal” customers are leaving. Customers want more than a good product or service; they want to enjoy the experience of using a product or service, which begins with their first interaction with your company. In spite of all your customer-service training and “customer-facing” procedures, policies and scripts, customers aren’t feeling the love. Your automated system doesn’t include the option they need at the moment and makes it nigh impossible to talk to a human being.
- Your margins are shrinking. Your product or service has become a commodity and you’ve been competing primarily on price. Your customers believe they can find what you offer elsewhere, for a better price. And they can, so they’re leaving. Meanwhile, you keep lowering your price and customers continue to leave. Perhaps your top line is still impressive. Your bottom line is troubling.
- Implementation agony. There is a lack of alignment, cooperation and collaboration throughout the organization. A matrixed organization filled with smart people who fail to connect with each other, have no desire to connect, and in fact, do not know how to connect with their peers in other parts of the organization produces a silo mentality. The thinking is: “This decision solves my problem, too bad it causes new problems for others.” Initiatives stall and you incur financial and cultural penalties as a result.
- Competitors can poach your talent. Countless surveys show that human beings desire on-going, deep connection to their co-workers and to the companies for which they work. If an organization’s relationship with associates is based primarily on an exchange of time, talent and smarts for a paycheck, you’re a source for head hunters who will have no trouble luring your “high potentials” to companies with something more appealing going on, where there is more to the human dynamic than “I’m smarter than you are.”
Your most valuable currency is now, always has been, and always will be relationship, emotional capital, which you may be losing one decision, one initiative, one failed conversation with your colleagues and customers at a time.
If you doubt that your organization is involved in an emotional enterprise, just ask that client who is considering spending money with you. Ask your team members, the people who decide every day how much discretionary effort they will make available to the tasks at hand.
Yet, despite all the evidence pointing to the fact that it is the deeply feeling, emotionally intelligence people who are best equipped to deliver profits, we continue to focus on hiring and promoting people with pedigrees, graduates of the best business colleges, who talented though they are, do not view human connectivity as relevant to their success.
Meanwhile, the organization’s strategy keeps stalling. Cross-boundary collaboration isn’t happening. Leaders play whack-a-mole, micro-managing versus leading. Original thinking is happening elsewhere. Employees have little or no emotional connection to the organization and its customers. Loyal customers are hard to come by. Relationships steadily disintegrate.
At such a crossroads, leaders tend to review measurable goals, economic indicators, cash flow projections, process and procedures. Staggering amounts of money are dedicated to reviewing basic business processes while employees long for one galvanizing conversation.
High on the list of priorities on the order of ‘can’t really live without’, are deeply rewarding relationships with the people who are central to our success and happiness, at work and at home. Our failure to connect with one another and with our customers is literally costing companies millions in employee turnover.
Today I plan to change banks. The bank I’ve been with for two decades – one of the largest in the country and through which my company has run millions of dollars – continues to take steps that alienate their customers. The latest transgression has been to increase interest rates on their credit cards at a time when that is absolutely the wrong thing, the astoundingly insensitive and irresponsible thing, to do to their customers. They justify this by explaining that they need to make a profit so they can quickly repay the government for the billions of bail out money they received. Of course they do. But their latest move, suggested no doubt by incredibly “smart” leaders, will cause them to lose customers, which won’t be good for profits. This bank, like many businesses, is in a crisis that smarts can’t solve. The solution to their problem lies in connecting with their customers, yet their actions make it clear that this notion is not on their radar.
If you are still resisting the idea that human connectivity is essential to your success and happiness, I came across your fortune cookie. “The world is your oyster, but you are allergic to shellfish.”
The practice of hiring for “smarts” must be amended to: Hire for smart + heart. Chapter 2 of Fierce Leadership outlines how to do this.
Susan Scott is the Founder and CEO of the global training company Fierce, Inc. whose clients include Fortune 1000 companies worldwide. For 13 years, Susan ran think tanks for CEOs and designed and delivered training to peers working with CEOs in 18 countries. In 2002, Fierce Conversations—Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time, was published in four countries and, shortly thereafter, was listed on The Wall Street Journal and UPI best seller lists, and was one of USA TODAY’S top 40 business books of 2002. Her much anticipated second book—Fierce Leadership: An Alternative to the Worst “Best” Practices in Business Today will be published in September 2009. For more info on Susan Scott and Fierce, Inc. please visit www.FierceInc.com.