How to select winners

Many organizations are recruiting and selecting new talent using wholly inadequate criteria. They further compound the problem by developing and rewarding the wrong people and in the wrong ways. These errors often result in future problems, including painful personnel changes and all the associated lost time and money, as well as hits to team cohesiveness, morale, and productivity.

How can you select and promote winners for your organization, those talented people who will engage, commit, innovate, follow and lead?

Head and Heart  

The keys lie in recruiting, developing and rewarding people who have both head and heart.

Many organizations focus on head capabilities in selecting people: capabilities like knowledge, skills, and expertise. They assess intelligence, education, pedigree, experience, technical competence, and other conventional indicators.

Of course, those factors are critical, and sometimes raw brainpower is especially important. Princeton University’s former president, Shirley Tilghman, told us, “Brains really matter. You can’t be a leader here if you’re not smart.” Ron Sugar, former CEO and chairman of Northrop-Grumman, the global provider of military and commercial security systems, told us, “A lot of our work is literally rocket science, so we have 45,000 outstanding scientists and engineers.”

Unfortunately, many organizations don’t spend nearly enough time and effort looking at a person’s heart characteristics. Heart involves integrity, emotional intelligence, cultural fit, passion, courage, and persistence. Heart encompasses what energizes people, what carries them through adversity, what drives them to win.

In his best-selling book, Authentic Leadership, Bill George wrote that great companies must “figure out how to tap into people’s hearts—their passions and their desires to make a difference through their work.” Lorrie Norrington, former President of eBay Marketplaces, told us, “The heart really matters in leadership.”

In our experience, when you put your heart into your work, you invite others to do so as well, transforming their relationship with the work.

Some leaders say this heart stuff is too soft and fluffy, not sufficiently actionable. We disagree. Triple crown leadership proactively seeks, develops, and rewards people with both head and heart. It fills the enterprise with them, transforming both the people and the place in the process.

“I look for three things in hiring people. The first is personal integrity, the second is intelligence and the third is high energy level. But if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”

-Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

Heart begins with  personal integrity. People with integrity do the right thing, even when it is painful or costly. People who act with integrity over time build character.

Triple crown leaders watch for signs of character flaws in new recruits and colleagues, including: dishonesty, excessive ambition, controlling behavior, hyper-competitiveness, bullying, people-pleasing, workaholism, narcissism, arrogance, or greed.

Triple crown leaders get to know people at a deeper level to assess whether they are a good fit with the enterprise. Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox, focuses on “fit and fitness” for the company culture when interviewing executives. She is personally involved with the hiring decision of every person in the top two levels of the company: “I want to know who they are,” she explained to us. “I want to make sure they fit the organization and have fitness for what we want them to do. I want them to fit with our values and culture.”

Burns no longer interviews to determine task skills, relying on her colleagues to screen such head matters. Instead, she probes for character, humility, empathy, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, authenticity, and fearlessness. In other words, she looks for heart.

Of course, you must be careful what you ask a candidate to avoid running afoul of legal restrictions, so it is wise to ask for input from your Legal or HR department. For tips on questions to ask, see our Interviewing for Heart guide.

Core Concept: The key to selecting winners is to devote rigorous attention to recruiting for, developing, and rewarding both head and heart. Head involves the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary for the work. Heart involves integrity, emotional intelligence, cultural fit, passion, courage, and persistence. People deficient in either head or heart do not make the cut.

Practical Applications:

  1. Are you selecting people on the basis of head and heart criteria?
  2. What more could you do to seek out both head and heart?
  3. What does your organization do to develop and reward both head and heart in people?
Categories: Management & Leadership