Be A  Connoisseur Of Talent

Tom Peters still has it. In doing research for the best way to hire good and talented individuals in these tough times, I went to my library and found a copy of Tom Peters’ book Professional Service 50 published over twenty years ago in 1999. Even now twenty-three years later Peters still has it right. At first I thought that he could foresee what was going to happen when it came to the true shortage of talent that we face today. But then again after thinking about it for a while I came to the conclusion that good advice is timeless and what applied then still applies today.

In this book Peters talks about being a connoisseur of talent. Always being on the lookout for talented and interesting people and trying to hire them even if you don’t have a current opening.

This sage advice made me realize that nobody I know, no company I know or have worked with had ever done this. Almost all the time people will only hire when they need someone. Usually when someone leaves the company by being terminated or go for a better position or retires. Then and only then will companies start looking for their replacement.

Okay so once in a while the company adds a new division or department and they decide they need some people to fill it. But nevertheless, most of the hiring we see today in our industry is entirely reactive rather than proactive. And what Tom Peters is talking about in this book is all about being proactive.

Peters advises to always, always be on the lookout for good and talented people, in some cases unusual people, people who do not seem at first glance to actually belong in your organization but once you take a closer look at their skills and talents you can connect the dots and the picture will come together.

Here’s an example: smart companies are not looking for MBAs, nope, smart companies are looking for MFAs. If you don’t know what that is, and I would be surprised if you did in our industry, that’s a Master of Fine Arts degree. That’s right, smart companies are looking for creative people. Companies are looking for people who can think. People who can figure things out with their own form of creativity. People who actually understand people. Unlike MBAs who only understand systems and processes and have absolutely no people skills and in many cases no sense of creativity whatsoever. If you think about this for a second it really makes sense.

Here are some other gems from Tom Peters’ mind. Actually, ideas that most of us would have never thought of.

  • Never hire a straight A student. Chances are they are academic robots who know how to play the system, someone who knows how to get good grades while not learning very much. Peters’ advises hiring C students because their experience is better suited for the real world.
  • Be careful of hiring wealthy people. I once did a turnaround rescue of a company that had a well off CFO. He had never seen an unpaid bill in his life and could not handle that pile of unpaid bills that come with a turn around. He was horrified at those calls from vendors to the point where he was too mortified to try to negotiate payment terms with them. He eventually ran away from us screaming in terror!
  • Hire people who have seen adversity, People who have seen and lived through hard times. Nothing scares these folks. They can handle anything. I once worked with a company that was in Chapter 11 heading towards Chapter 7. Let me tell you those were challenging times. After that company went out of business I got a job working for a company that was solid financially. At dinner with a couple of my sales guys one night, they started complaining about the pressures of their jobs and how hard it was to make forecast. I just laughed and said, “Come on guys, you call that pressure? I’ll give you pressure; pressure is taking your biggest customer out to dinner at a fancy restaurant in Houston and after you’ve given the waiter your company credit card the Maître’d comes to your table to tell you that you have a phone call. And you end up in the kitchen on the phone with American Express pleading with them to cover the bill. Now that’s pressure!”
  • Hire people who are a pain in the ##s, people who are so passionate about what they believe in, in what they think is right that they will nag you so much that you want to fire them. But the better part of you knows that they are right, that you are lucky to have them on the team and that what they are passionate about is making your company great!

These are all things that Peters recommends and things that make sense. Not that you will ever see any of these pieces of advice in any standard HR handbooks.  But then if you want to find greatness you have to look for it in places where no one else dares to look. It’s only common sense