I received secondhand advice from a retired CEO in the healthcare industry. It went something like this:
"You don't think I got to be CEO without having A-players on my team, do you?"
He brings to life a really good point, and it's something I tend to overlook. I work so hard trying to show people I'm awesome, that I tend to forget my teammates actually have a lot of influence on the perception of my department, my company, and even the work I'm performing.
Executives love numbers. They love the acronym ROI. They pay great attention to amount and effectiveness of word product. So it makes perfect sense that the success of the people you directly manage has a great effect on your success, as your people directly affect your work product.
But then there are your teammates -- people who don't work for you, and maybe not even necessarily with you, but they work in your department. They are viewed by executives as working in the same group as you.
Those ruthless executives tend to also care about the impact of a department as a whole. Maybe you're super awesome. Maybe you have the best people in the world working for you. But if you have slackers working beside you, the view of your department (from above) will quickly turn negative. That means respect decreases, and maybe along with your budget.
I'd love to say you just know, but I know it's not really that easy. Then again, trying to make it that simple is a good way to see if you have A-players right now.
What's the talk around the water cooler? What is your executive saying? If it's negative, then the answer is pretty simple -- you probably need to strengthen either your team or your approach. And if you're like me, you may not even be satisfied with a satisfied executive. There's always room for improvement.
There are many sub-questions I'd put under here. How fast is work product coming in? Do you ever have to re-teach a concept, practice, or process? What does your executive perceive about your workers?
Again, they may seem like silly questions and their answers only get you part of the way there. For the most part it really is a gut feeling -- could you or could you not have better people on your team, in your industry, at your company?
If yes, then go get them. If no, then maybe it's time for a change.
It's also not easy to find A-players. Assuming you already have a decent understanding of how to evaluate a person in an interview, a great way to evaluate potential talent is to invest in a co-op or internship program. For most business functions, as long as a person understands the basics of your department, they can learn the nitty-gritty details later. One's potential to succeed in life is often separate from their major in college, or the school they go to. And hiring a student has the following added benefits:
But, if you really want to get talent, add these as part of your internship program:
Sometimes it can seem like you're doing everything you can and you still aren't seeing results. Here are a couple examples:
It's not always easy to change someone's mind. If you made a bad first impression on your executive(s), it's going to take a lot more work to create that positive perception of you and your department.
What if your executive doesn't understand what you do? What if they just don't see the value you and your department bring to the company?
It's up to you to educate that executive. Tell them why you are important. Continue to sell your position and your department even after you've been hired.
Good executives will take the time to understand. Others just won't care.
Some believe you can be a good manager without knowing how your people work. I've never seen that work out.
Do your own type of evaluation on your executive by tempting them to learn what it is you do on a daily basis.
Often times there is another person (or people) between you and the executive level. If that person is totally ruining it for the rest of the department, that's not good. You have to strategically coach your boss to be better. How you do that takes a lot of political maneuvering and even more patience.
But you want to avoid going over their head. Use that as your last option. Try to fix it directly and politically (be nice), and go ahead and tattle on them as your last straw.
One option we don't always consider is that our company may not be the cute girl at the dance. We always want to be. Often times we think we are, even when we're not.
Not all companies are attractive. Sometimes, regardless of the money you offer, the benefits you provide, or the number of free corndogs you give away, you just can't attract the best of the best.
You've read through these thoughts and you've likely evaluated your own team as you've read. So, now you have a question to answer:
Do you have a team of A-players?
If you do, great. But don't be satisfied. Get better. But keep having fun.
If you don't, make a list of actionable items you need to try to get there.
But if you continue to try to make your team better and see no progress, then it's time for you to make a change. Whatever the reason may be. If you just can't get to that team of A-players within the status quo, and if you just can't change that status quo, it's time to move on.
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