Hiring Great Talent Takes GUTS!

business contractHiring great talent takes guts. It takes a lot of nerve to decide to only hire the best man/woman for the job, regardless of environmental influence, no matter whose ox is gored. And these pressures are real, let’s not make light of it at all. But a lot of the pressure also comes from inside of you. This has made it very difficult for people to assemble the best team possible to them.

I’ll give you an example. One of Abraham Lincoln’s earliest political enemies was Edward Stanton. In one speech he called Lincoln a “low, cunning clown,” in another he said, “It is ridiculous to go to Africa to see a Gorilla when you can find one just as easily as in Springfield Illinois.”

Lincoln never responded. When he was elected President and needed a Secretary of War, guess who he chose? Edward Stanton. When friends asked him why, Lincoln said “Because he’s the best man for the job.” Years later as the slain president’s body lay in state; Edward Stanton looked into the casket and said through his tears, “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen.” His animosity had been broken by Lincoln’s long-suffering, non-retaliatory spirit.

In the first part of this discourse, I made the point that the make or break for President Yar’ Adua is People Selection and not Project or Policy Selection. I wrote the piece shortly after the announcement of Segun Adeniyi as the media spokesman for the President. This was and is my point below:

“After several years in government I realized that the more talented people I had as ministers, administrators, and professional, the more effective my policies were, and the better the results” – Lee Kuan Yew (Prime Minister, Singapore, 1959-1990)

The Make or Break for President Yar’adua is People Selection and not Project or Policy Selection. The new President will not succeed beyond the caliber of people he surrounds himself with. What President Musa Yar’adua chooses to be his priority area(s) notwithstanding; be it the Niger Delta dragon, be it the Power sector tsunami… the first real challenge and the one that will mark or mar his administration will be that of cabinet member’s recruitment & selection. It has never been possible for any leader, public or private, to succeed beyond the quality of his close team.

Great visions are birth only when great leaders have great advisors. Is there a crystal ball that we can look at that will give us an indication, even though slight, of how this new government will fare? Can we know early enough? Yes. By looking at the kind of appointments the President will make. For this administration to have monumental success, its first challenge will be to select a diverse pool of phenomenal talent. Does this President have the guts… to match this challenge? Hiring great talent is a tough job

Any student of nation building would have observed that the major factor that took Singapore from ‘third world to first world’ was their rigorous and unprejudiced recruitment process. From the selection of ministers, to heads of ministries and agencies…the key was ‘whom the cap fits let him wear it’. Theirs was a reign of ‘hire the best’. It would seem that for Nigeria the rule as been ‘hire the friends’.

Listen to Lee Yew, “My experience of developments in Asia has led me to conclude that we need good people to have good government. However good the system of government, bad leaders will bring harm to their people. On the other hand, I have seen several societies well-governed in spite of poor systems of government, because good, strong leaders were in charge… the single decisive factor that made for Singapore’s development was the ability of its ministers and the high quality of the civil servants who supported them. Whenever I had a lesser minister in charge, I invariably had to push and prod him, and later to review problems and clear roadblocks for him…because of our relentless and unceasing search for talent both at home and abroad to make up for the small families of the well-educated, Singapore has been able to keep up its performance.

Also flowing from Jim Collin’s epic research on organisation building, documented in the book, “Good to Great, it was discovered that after ‘quality of leadership’ the next factor that helped companies into greatness is, ‘quality of good people’. In fact they discovered that having ‘good people’ is incomparable to having a well thought out business strategy …that a team of good people will develop a great business idea and flawlessly execute it.

Hear from Jim Collins,

When we began the research project, we expected to find that the first step in taking a company from good to great would be to set a new direction, a new vision and strategy for the company, and the to get the people committed and aligned behind the new direction. We found something quite the opposite. The executives who ignited the transformations from good to great did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get people to take it there. No, they first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it.”

They said, in essence, “Look I don’t really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.” Good-to-great companies build deeply committed, strong management teams. The right executives will do everything in their power to build a great company, not because of what they will get in terms of incentives and compensation, but because they simply cannot imagine settling for anything less. Their moral code is “Excellence for its own sake”.

The right people will do the right things and deliver the best results regardless of the incentive system. Good-to-great companies know people aren’t your most important asset, the right people are. Like a professional sports team, only the best made the annual cut, regardless of position or tenure. Locally and internationally, one of the indices used by financial analysis to forecast the potential and health of an organisation is management quality, management credibility …General Electric, the World’s All-Time Most Admired Company, is renowned for these and its rigorous executive selection process.

Fortunately or unfortunately the Obasanjo administration exploited this principle a number of times to ‘steal’ our confidence. At the beginning they appointed late Chief Bola Ige (a clear PDP opposition, an AD stalwart!) as Minister of Power & Steel – the generality of Nigerians received this development with gladness and tenderness towards that administration increased. Later during the 2nd term, it appointed a Vice President to the World Bank, a clear finance and economics technocrat, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to become Minister of Finance.

Even though most of us didn’t know who she was but it was welcomed as a departure from the former days where politicians were made Ministers of Finance! Not too long we also so the appointment of another professional as the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria – Professor Charles Soludo. It ended the days where top bank executives used CBN appointments as one leg of their retirement plan!

At another time we saw the setting up of a Debt Management Office (DMO), even though we didn’t know if it was an apparatus for the government or of the government, we at least noticed that it was led, not by a politician, but by another professional – Oby Ezekwesili. This at least made us more patient and thus gave the DMO emotional space to operate.

Why does appointing top talent into national or organizational governance have such a profound effect? Particularly in this part of the world where political appointments are regularly made on bi-partisan basis; when an appointment seems to be against the grain, it raises people’s hopes and expectations…it suggests to people that things will be different. People are inspired, motivated. It confers some credibility on the government. People are also aware that talented administrators and professionals bring their wealth of experience…they come with rich ideas. They elevate the quality of debates and ideas that go into decision making. Their very presence also attracts other talents – well grounded people to work with like minds. People also know that this caliber of people is constrained by the ethics of their respective professions to deliver their unbiased utmost at all times.

May the new President remember what Jack Welch found out from his over twenty years meritorious leading of the world’s most admired company – the team with the best players wins!…to be continued.