Hire for Personality

The eternal question – how do you build a team? Anyone with a keen eye on baseball, and notably the Boston Red Sox, will know that there is more than one way to build a successful team. Do you pay big bucks to get the best guys on the market? Or do you look for alternative measures of performance? The lessons for all of us are there to be learned.

By getting rid of the potentially disruptive (and expensive) Adrian Gonzalez, and bringing in the infectious personality of Jonny Gomes (for a lot less money), the Red Sox have made it very clear they’re building a team not around superstars but around these alternative measures of performance, and one of them is personality …

Every business needs a Jonny Gomes

Jonny Gomes isn’t the big name signing that some Red Sox fans were hoping for, but he’s the kind of infectious personality that lifts a clubhouse. He survived a heart attack at a young age, and he comes with grit, determination and a “bully-like attitude” that the Red Sox manager John Farrell wants.

You can talk all day about ‘moneyball’ and averages against left-handers (of which Gomes is apparently doing quite well), but the lesson for us all here as business leaders is that the Red Sox have hired a man with personality in mind. Does he fit? Will he help others in the team to lift their game as well?

I’m currently facing the same quandary as Red Sox GM Ben Cherington. How do I build a team that can do all of the following:

  • please my clients (and for the Red Sox, that’s their fans)
  • help boost morale with the rest of the team
  • help develop younger members of the team

Now, is that person the one with the best track record? The best ‘averages’ or whatever measures you treasure most? Or is it the person who strikes you as infectious. A capable worker, granted, but someone who brings enthusiasm, perseverance and drive … these are assets that you can’t read from a CV. Sure, anyone can call themselves “enthusiastic and motivate” (and most people do, judging from the CVs I’ve received), but are they really?

Know who you are, then you’ll know who you want

Some call it employer brand. I call it “knowing who you are”. It’s about developing a deep understanding of yourself, your business, and the type of business you want to be.

The Red Sox don’t want to be a glitzy bunch of A-listers obsessed with money and fast cars. They want to be a hard-working bunch of professionals – a team of enthusiastic, ambitious players with something to prove. That’s why they’ve recruited Gomes, as well as Mike Napoli, and “born leader” David Ross. That’s why they looked elsewhere when Josh Hamilton and Zach Greinke were both on the market for big money. It’s a character fit because they have a very clear direction, and any new recruits have to fit that direction.

This comes from the top, and it comes from within. This ethos needs to bleed throughout the organisation. Define the values you already have – and the values you want. Align your objectives to those desired values, and align employee objectives to those values. When it comes to recruitment, don’t use experience as the be-all-and-end-all marker of a candidate’s true worth. Use your new values.

Build trust into your organisation

In a past life, I looked into trust as a recruitment tool, and I believe this is where the Red Sox are going. For example, the deal that brought Mike Napoli to the club took an age, and where most deals would collapse, Napoli signed on – for a worse deal than he may have got elsewhere. Why? Because he bought into the ethos. He trusted the club, and they knew that he would bring trust with him.

Ask yourself – can I trust this candidate? Can I trust them, say, with my wallet? Or left alone at a dinner table with our biggest client? I’ve always believed that trust, at every level, is what really makes an organisation tick. If you trust them, they trust you, and that spreads through a business quickly.

The Boston Red Sox could have gone out and recruited anyone this winter – they could have spent big (they have the money), but they chose not to. They chose to bring in guys they could trust, guys they could rely on and guys that other members of the team could rely on. If you’re involved in a scrap, you want the likes of Jonny Gomes on your side. If you’re down, you want the likes of Jonny Gomes to lift you up.

Recruiting for the future

As a Brit, I am fascinated – and a little perplexed – by Americans’ obsession with rookies. Raw talent that may not get a look-in for several years. Of course, in American Football, a player’s lifespan is so short that rookies quickly become superstars, but in baseball, this nurturing process can take many years.

But who nurtures? If you don’t have the nurturers, how will young talent ever develop?

The Red Sox have an eye on 2016 and beyond, and it’s a struggle to find many businesses who have similar long-term visions. Call it succession planning, if you like. I’ve seen plenty of examples of talented young individuals brought into a business who have unfortunately stagnated due to the lack of inspirational people around them. Everyone needs a mentor – someone to look up to – at every stage of their career.

The lesson here is that, in order for the Red Sox to develop the likes of Bogaerts and Iglaesias, they need not just the technically talented coaches, but the inspirational characters, too. They need the mentors – the men whose grit and experience can help them build character alongside technique.

More than Moneyball

The emotional factor of recruiting is, for me, as important as poring over a candidate’s technical background. It’s why I’ll never fully buy into Moneyball and the sabermetric analysis of sport (although I must admit, I’m fascinated by it). It’s why I’ll never get excited by a CV or a Linkedin profile.

When building a team, it’s more than Moneyball, more than facts and statistics. It’s about trust, feeling and the future. Who you want to be, as a business. I feel the Red Sox have got it right – at last. And there’s so much to learn …

(Image #44861644 © lynea – Fotolia.com)

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