People Strategies for Profitable Growth

Is your growth constrained because you cannot get the right people? Attracting top talent is the number one priority for many CEOs and owners.

This article will provide a step-by-step approach to: 1) removing the under-performers, and  2) hiring high performers.

Here are the 3 steps:

  1. Remove the low performers;
  2. Become magnetic to top people; and
  3. Hire the right people.

Actioning this ‘People’ phase of a business turnaround is the most crucial and the trickiest. It is one of our 2 top priorities in a project’s first 90 days 1.  Long-standing friendships often prevent crucial People decisions.

Get on board the right people and treat them with due respect. It’ll halve your work and  indirectly impact earnings almost immediately ” – Jeremy de Constantin

Here are the steps.

Step 1: Remove the Low Performers

What follows is simple stuff, but highly effective.

The idea is to classify People into one of these 3 categories. Think of a canoe with 3 individuals in it.

  1. Rowers
  2. Passengers
  3. Drillers

Rowers keep the boat moving forward with their enthusiasm, initiative, and work ethic.

Passengers are just along for the ride. They do the bare minimum.

Drillers are actively out to sink the boat with their negativity and poor attitude.

Low performers are definitely the drillers and some passengers – if they cannot be converted!

Low-Performer Checklist:

Look for those who:

  • Are negative
  • Blame others
  • Have a sense of entitlement
  • Don’t take the initiative
  • Procrastinate
  • Resist change
  • Create drama for attention

Fire Fast:

Focus your attention on anyone who ticks off on 5 or more of the above. Fire fast is the rule! Ruthlessness is the order of the day. The Drillers must go.

You cannot change entrenched attitudes like negativity and feelings of entitlement easily, so don’t try.

You will also need advice from a specialist employment lawyer.

Once done, a sense of relief will run through the business. “Why didn’t we get rid of Bill years ago?” is a comment I have heard countless times.

Of course, hold on to the Passengers who might convert into Rowers. Passengers worth a shot at converting might only tick off on 1 or 2 of the checklist above.

Next, you need to recruit your new high-performing Rowers.

Step 2: Become a Magnet for Top Talent

Vision first. You will need to think of a Core Purpose for the business, and at least one Audacious Goal. Both must excite you and others.  Test it first with someone who will give you an honest response. This will be your seat-of-the-pants Vision to sell to the new hires.

E.g. For an Australian manufacturer, the Purpose was to manufacturer brilliant designs comparable to leading German manufacturers that were flawless and would kill off the Asian competition. The Audacious Goal was to reclaim #1 market position in  Australia in 24 months.

Next you will need brush up on your leadership skills in 2 specific areas.

a) Listening and Inquiring

  • Lean toward listening and enquiry, rather than ‘telling’;
  • Ask coaching type questions, including during interviews, to provoke new lines of thinking and draw out the best in the person; and
  • Show genuine interest in people’s ideas.

b) Inspiring through Intrinsic Motivation

  • Motivate people by providing rich learning experiences, rather than monetary rewards;
  • Determine what is important to people and use that insight to motivate them;
  • Stress the importance of learning, growth and development; and
  • Focus people on achievement and fulfilment, rather than financial reward.

Quality candidates almost always sign on if your philosophy in business is treating people with respect and more like owners, than mere cogs in a wheel. They will take initiative and sometimes make mistakes. This will lead to increased productivity, better morale and improved results.

High-performers will start to queue up. It has happened in every business turnaround where I have had the mandate from the owners to hire and fire.

Step 3: Hire the Right People 

If you are like most business managers, your tendency is to hire on skills. This can go horribly wrong.

Mark Murphy in his book Hiring for Attitude, makes the point that while skills are important, attitude and coach-ability are more important. He ranks the 3 qualities to look for in a new hire as follows:

  1. Attitude
  2. Coach-ability
  3. Skills

Hire for the right attitude. Every business has its own unique culture, so even though a potential recruit has a good attitude, he may not have the right attitude. The right attitude is defined as being a near perfect match for the business’s unique culture. Certain attitudes, even if good attitudes, may work in one culture but not in another.

Here is a quick exercise that will help identify your unique attitudinal characteristics. It is called the 3-3-3 Exercise.

The idea is that you analyse your 3 best and 3 worst employees.

E.g. Tim is the CEO of a software company. He wrote down ( in a behaviourally-specific way ) the attitudinal characteristics of his 3 best and 3 worst employees over the past 3 years. The table below is a summary of what Tim came up with.

The 3 Best Employees The 3 Worst Employees
  • Can distinguish between big problems that could permanently damage the company and minor problems that temporarily irritate employees (but don’t hurt the company or customers).
  • Helps ownership make smarter strategic decisions by proactively providing important information (including bad news) in a candid and open-minded way
  • Takes responsibility for, and accomplish set tasks, constantly growing their own skill set.
  • Blames others (including other departments or even customers) or makes excuses when things go wrong.
  • Does not collaborate, preferring to fly solo and then get all the glory, even if it means ultimately generating a sub-optimal solution.
  • Overwhelmed by multiple demands and becomes paralysed, unable to accomplish anything, instead of effectively triaging and accomplishing the work.

Use this exercise before you make any hiring decisions.

Keep the table front and centre, during the interviewing process.

Let’s recap:

  1. Remove the Low Performers
  2. Become a Magnet for Top Talent
  3. Hire the Right People

Profitable growth is a function of the attitude, coachability, and skills of the People you have at all levels in your business. We know from first-hand experience, that the owners who get this right have the foundation for a prosperous business.

The other priority in a turnaround situation is making sure the financials are in shape and that the business is not going to run out of Cash!

2 Mark Murphy, Hiring for Attitude (2012), p.29.