The word ‘building’ is a give-away as to my bias.

Potential and performance tend to stick together in business cases, and hiring decisions. The reality is that they tend to be used synonymously, which leads to unmitigated disasters. People, more often than not, are hired on the basis of past performance (as if it is an indicator of future performance), and not based on potential to impact the future. In my experience, potential is a proxy to measure the motivation to pursue a certain goal, but performance is a measure of commitment to delivering that goal.

As I stepped in to my current role two years ago, my first order of business was to build a new sales team. I deliberately decided not to hire career sales professionals. My business plan predicated growth on having a team that could build a sustainable business, as opposed to meeting just quarterly goals. The plan also allowed for teams to grow and take on leadership roles as they grew their individual portfolios. Hiring non-sales guys for sales jobs was contrary to the norm in the business. I copped some grief, but I carried on. We were a start-up within a start-up. High-performance cannot be bought, it has to be purpose built for your specific needs.

My rationale was to identify leaders who demonstrated the following traits,

  • Desire to create a personal legacy, and enjoy the journey (FUN)
  • Ability to set ambitious goals that have a real risk of failure, but are not daunted by it (FEAR)
  • Can define standards for outcomes, and staying the course without being distracted (FOCUS)

Two years to-date, we have a very tightly knit leadership team on the ground. Everyone is acutely aware of their individual strengths and weaknesses, the complementary capability available within team, and lastly they are all self-driven with a clear view of what success means to them individually, and collectively. The team has more to gain, than to lose and that I find is the best motivator for teams.

This strategy has its own set of challenges and failures.

  • Companies demand performance in the shortest time possible from new hires. The lead up time to performance has been slightly longer than I anticipated, as the forming, storming, and norming stages took up to eight months as individuals joined across months. This is where conviction backed by data showing progress along the path you’ve laid out becomes key. Capital almost always follows a path of highest projected return, so it is your job as a leader to paint that picture and showcase progress.
  • I’ve had one individual leave about 8 months in to the gig, another 18 months in to as it did not align with his career goals. Demands on continually improving performance can be demanding. Despite the attrition, the business has grown, which leads me to believe that the team is performing significantly above what is normal on a sustained basis.
  • Keeping motivation levels up across the team as each individual had their own cycle of ups and downs. The key is to ensure it does not affect overall team morale.

In summary, it is my opinion that to build high performance teams, we need three ingredients

  1. The book The Leading Brain neatly summarizes that individuals need to have Fun (enjoy what you do), Fear (of failing as a driver), and Focus (in executing flawlessly) to hit peak performance
  2. Culture of the company should allow for decision making at levels closest to the ground.
  3. A team that is 100% committed to making it happen, and for that I must thank my team for their unrelenting dedication, collaborative spirit, and expert thinking.

High-performance cannot be bought off-the-shelf, it has to be purpose built for your specific needs.

I would love to hear from you.