In essence, every business leader is working to assemble a team of superstars. While it's hard to know exactly which candidate will be the best addition to your team, most people try to nail down the answer by focusing on the recruitment and hiring stage.
By shedding the less-than-impressive resumes and focusing on candidates who have stellar backgrounds and qualifications, it can appear that you have the best and brightest candidates. But if you look at the qualities that actually predict a person's potential for success, paper-based hiring just doesn't cut it.
While sifting through resumes and looking for personal qualities that match your culture is important, companies are better served by developing a cultural environment that encourages everyone to adopt a best-in-class mindset – a vibe that leadership cultivates and an attitude your team embodies 24/7/365.
Think like you're at the front of the room
When asked what qualities most influence productivity, more than 50% of CEOs and CFOs pointed to the same variable: a healthy corporate culture. In the eyes of these high-level executives, workplaces that balance creativity, firm values and profitability are best positioned to thrive.
Employees lucky enough to work in such an environment have a best-in-class mindset. It combines coachability, self-belief and a work ethic that equates winning with outworking competitors. My team prides itself on being 100% coachable – never shunning criticism, never giving in to defensive responses and always embracing change.
Seeking out and fostering this mindset takes a lot of work. It happens by actively listening to what drives someone, what defines their goals and how they quantify success. These people say and do things that signal a desire to improve. They understand that winning comes from being open to criticism, and they're the first ones to turn negative events into learning moments. Those are the people who are the best in their class at getting better.
It's not enough, though, to locate an existing best-in-class mindset while interviewing candidates. To keep that mindset alive in a working team, those conversations must continue long after hiring.
How to get to the head of the class
How can you turn your approach around so that you're focusing on a best-in-class mindset when hiring talent and developing culture? Use these strategies to nurture a team of stars with legitimate talents – not just stellar resumes.
- Have an everyone-or-nothing policy. A best-in-class culture only works when everyone buys in. When only some team members adopt that mindset, negativity and counterproductive behaviors can influence office politics and lead to dissension in the ranks. Culture is cyclical: Negativity breeds negativity, and positivity breeds positivity. Build a sustainable first-rate culture by encouraging and emphasizing the qualities you want — compensate for them and tailor your feedback to them. Make it easy to see who is fully embracing the mindset and who is still on the fence.
- Make culture your homeroom. Like a muscle, a strong culture is something that you must regularly train and retrain. For example, my team realigns with our values and principles every single time we meet. We rehash them, rethink them and even argue about them. By keeping them top of mind, we immediately know when they're out of focus and how we can retrieve them. Use this culture-focused time to teach and provide opportunities for growth. Assign team members interesting reading material, work with coaches, attend seminars and practice other self-improvement activities. Recognize and praise people who put in the effort to live the culture you're trying to breed.
- Leave your crown at home. Too often, I've seen companies start out with a great mindset only to let it fall by the wayside at the first sign of success. Those companies earn their spot at the top and then stop making strides forward. They forget about everything that made their success possible and willfully fall back with the pack. Your company might be dominating your market today, but that won't be the case for long if you neglect to focus on continued efforts to be disruptive.
Stay on the lookout for new technologies, methodologies, and ideas to keep your team ahead of market trends and help your talent continually hone their creativity. Resist the status quo and embrace disruption – it's the only way you'll continue to provide best-in-class service to clients.
The tendency to focus on paper attributes can be damaging to businesses. This is particularly true for smaller companies and startups that need every new hire to bring formative value to the team. Anyone can look good on a resume, but test scores and impressive references only tell half the story.
A culture of collective self-improvement is what's going to keep your team excelling far beyond the hiring stage. There's enough discouragement in the world. Build a workplace where your people can feel free and safe to take risks and become their best selves.