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Cash in on a crazy idea


Think of a crazy idea that everyone says will never work, and prove everybody wrong by creating a successful business out of it. That’s the all-American story—and one we never tire of hearing.

Joe Assell, co-founder of GolfTEC, was told repeatedly that his model for teaching golf was doomed to failure. He ignored the naysayers and took his love of the sport and belief that golf is a tool for productive economic, community and personal change, and turned it into a $60 million business with 700 employees. After more than 16 years, he still feels giddy when he gets up in the morning to go to work.

Joe, like every other business leader who spoke at ACG’s Rocky Mountain Corporate Growth Conference this March, agreed that “resilient growth” is at its core about having the right people —which means not only those with the talent needed to meet the challenges, but people you love to be around.

People first, strategy and culture second

I wonder how many brave entrepreneurs have overcome the naysayers and taken their crazy ideas to market only to fail, not because there was something intrinsically wrong with the idea, but because they hired the wrong people. Once you have that spark in your mind, who will build on your vision? Who will help you set realistic goals? Who will help you decide what you’re going to do and, as Carly Fiorina advised in her keynote, define what you’re not going to do? It has to be people you respect, trust and, yes, like.

Of course you need a killer strategy and an evolving culture that inspires innovation and embraces change. But which comes first, the strategy and culture, or the people? Despite what you may think, your success depends most on the first person you hire, and on every person you hire after that. Without the right people, things like clear goals, competitive advantage, and effective leadership have diminished importance. The right people will help develop your winning strategies and the culture to support them.

Choose your people carefully

If you’re surrounded by people who talk incessantly, are always gloomy, or simply never find time to have fun, would you look forward to seeing them every morning? Would it affect your motivation to go to work? Your productivity? And what if one of the supervisors you hire regularly flies off the handle and puts people on the spot? What is coming to work like for the ten people who work under this person? I once heard someone say that culture is only as broad as a single supervisor. When you’re the one getting yelled at in front of your team, it doesn’t make one bit of difference that one of the company’s values is “respect for others.”

Well-defined strategies and lofty values are just so many words unless you have the right people in place to bring them to life. After coming up with your idea, choosing your people is where your attention should go—and should stay your primary focus as long as you lead the company.

Use every tool available to find people you truly want to work with: assessments, referrals, references, background checks...take them to dinner, meet their spouse if they have one, dig to find out who they really are. And, if you don’t fully respect, trust or like any member of your team, that person may simply not be the right fit. Imagine the success rate of companies where everyone feels giddy about going to work!

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Kathleen Quinn Votaw

Kathleen Quinn Votaw is CEO of TalenTrust. Her first book, Solve the People Puzzle; How High-Growth Companies Attract and Retain Top Talent, debuted in February 2016. Her firm has achieved several awards, including recognition from Inc.5000 in 2015 and 2016. She speaks frequently and advises CEOs on trends in talent and how to be strategic in developing a people strategy. Kathleen has served on several nonprofit boards including Colorado Companies to Watch and ACG-Denver. Reach Kathleen at kvotaw@talentrust.com or 303-838-3334.

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