Free the Idea Monkey

Insight

You Deserve the Team You Get

December 27, 2011

Contributors

Whoa.

We have received thousands of comments, scores of emails, and a bunch of phone calls in response to our last two columns, Three Types of People to Fire Immediately and Three Types of People to Hire Today.

So, what are the takeaways?

The biggest one is this: Whether you are a happy or unhappy worker, a good or bad manager, an enlightened or naïve leader, you deserve the team you get. Said differently, we all play a role in what our teams and companies become. We must choose to take control of the results or risk making ourselves victims of the situation.

Either way, we must live with the results of our choices. For some, this means complaining more; for others, it means leaving for another opportunity; and for others still, it means creating a different reality.

Your authors aspire to be creators and prefer to hire and inspire creators, as well. If you’ve built a culture of innovation, we presume you agree and act in kind.

THE RIGHT STUFF

The next biggest insight was this: People want to create new products and services because it is rewarding, but it is one of the hardest things for a culture to do.

And what follows from that insight is this one: You want to make your company a safe place for everyone because fear is the enemy of invention. To do that requires the right kind of colleagues.

More specifically, you want to hire people who:

1. Challenge themselves and everyone around them to co-create the best ideas. “Good enough” never is.

2. Have an entrepreneurial mindset. No, they don’t need to have started a company in their past or even have had a lemonade stand as a kid. Entrepreneurs—and people who think like them—love solving challenges. The tougher the better. The entrepreneurial mind leads to creation. It reveals opportunities where others see problems. Show us someone with an entrepreneurial bent, and we’ll show you a person who feels completely in control of his or her choices and the outcome.

3. Complement one another. An organization filled with right-brained, divergent people will probably come up with an endless string of new ideas but lack the discipline to carry them to fruition. A left-brain-dominated, convergent culture will execute well, but the quality of the ideas could be lacking. In our experience, the most innovative companies and the most enlightened leaders have found a balance that allows the team to identify and focus on the most important insights, create differentiated ideas to meet them, and execute the ideas with precision. Is your team in balance? How about your leadership style? Does it create imbalance?

And as team captain, you want to make sure you do those three things yourself. We cannot stress that enough.

And now, at the risk of triggering hate mail again, let us underscore whom you simply have to fire if innovation is your charge. When faced with any of the following three types of destructive and consistent behavior—and you have found it impossible to change the chosen mindset that produces it—say goodbye. Quickly.

But first a disclaimer: We hate letting people go. We think you should, too. A termination often indicates that the company has failed the person. So we agree with the many angry readers who have suggested that you must strive to hire only people with the right DNA and then surround them with managers who make them even better. Then and only then, do you fire them if they don’t improve.

Now on with whom you should terminate:

Victims. We all play the role of victim occasionally, but for some, it has turned into a way of life. They almost seem to enjoy it. They are often angry, usually annoyed, and almost always complaining. Victims aren’t looking for opportunities; they are looking for problems. Victims can’t innovate. If this is making you angry, we may be writing about you.

Nonbelievers. Sure, you want smart, intelligent people to challenge every assumption—especially those assumptions made by the boss. So we are not advocating a staff of sycophants. In our experience, the link between believing in eventual success and succeeding is incredibly powerful and real. Great leaders understand this. That’s why they find and promote believers within their organizations. They also understand the cancerous effect that nonbelievers have on a team and will cut them out of the organization quickly and without regret. If you want to innovate but are saddled with nonbelievers, you’re either a lousy leader or in denial.

Know-It-Alls. The best innovators are learners, not knowers. The same can be said about innovative cultures; they are learning cultures. The leaders who have built these cultures know that in order to discover, they must eagerly seek out things they don’t understand and jump right into the deep end of the pool. They must fail fearlessly and quickly, and then learn and share their lessons with the team. When they behave this way, they empower others around them to follow suit—and presto, a culture of discovery is born and nurtured.

“What could I be missing?” is a question every leader should feel comfortable exploring.

You don’t need the victims, nonbelievers or know-it-alls to be innovative. You don’t want to hire them in the first place; you certainly don’t want a culture that creates them. And if you wind up with one on your team, it is up to you to make sure they take their anti-innovative outlooks elsewhere. You deserve the staff you get.