I feel like a drug dealer. Giving you that tantalising title is like crack for leaders. Why? Because you want them, SO much. Not just because most CEOs have some form of addictive/compulsive/obsessive personality traits; but because I’m pretty sure I’d win a bet that you have a people problem right now.
I hear it over and over, and it’s like the problem that never stops giving. Whatever the variant, people talk as if there is a central truth: People management is hard. It’s messy and emotional and draining and… .
When I start working with startups, they complain about it being so hard to hire those first people they could trust. Leaders of small businesses talk with each other in hushed tones at networking events. They warn each other – as though passing on the Eleventh Commandment - to get rid of their businesses as soon as they near that dreaded ’30 people point’. It all goes wrong they say. It’s too big: you meet people you’ve hired and don’t know their names. You spend 120% of your time on people issues and you can’t control everything anymore, apparently.
The impossibility of building senior teams, people processes, rampant compensation requests and politicking, weigh heavily on the small to medium size businesses. But that’s nothing compared to the medium to large businesses. They have a war on talent, and couldn’t survive without anti-competitor, anti-poaching and confidentiality clauses in their HR contracts. Acquihiring is even a thing: where it’s worth buying an existing business just for the people, with the products/services purchased closed down post-acquisition.
Do you know what the scariest thing about all these ‘people problems’ is? They’re all bollocks. They’re pretty much all symptoms of the real secret of people management… there is no secret.
Now I know this isn’t what you wanted to hear, but it’s because the answer is like all the big truths in life. It’s simple and in plain sight. People don’t like to be managed. Most don’t want to work. What they want is to be led in doing something of meaning; after all, it’s the thing they will spend the most time doing (except sleeping) between when they’re born and when they die.
You don’t like to be managed. For some of you it’s probably why you set up your own business/ became a leader. So pretty much every problem you suffer is caused by your failure to recognise this alternate reality.
So now we’re getting somewhere. And the really exciting thing is that the alternative nature of this reality gives us our magic key (ok, so I don’t want you to go cold-turkey). You solve every people management or recruitment problem by recognising that what you should do is the opposite of what your brain tells you/most other people are doing:
1. Treat money, rewards and benefits as hygiene factors. You have to pay what the market is paying for the role in your area but past this, it’s scientifically proven not to be a motivator.
2. Tell it straight and fast. Woolly corporate performance appraisals are going the way of the mammoths. Anything other than immediate, unambiguous performance feedback is an abstraction that becomes more useless as time passes after the event. The more people give feedback 360 degrees, the better.
3. Who got you here probably won’t get you there. This is a tough one as it challenges our sense of loyalty. You need to challenge whether the people who served you so well for the stage of growth you’ve just come through, are fit for the next stage. If not, move them sideways or replace them. We have to show loyalty to the best interests of the business.
4. Nervous is good. Google have a people/culture rule: give people slightly more trust, freedom and authority than you are comfortable giving. If you’re not nervous, you’ve not given them enough.
5. Hire people who scare you. The biggest hiring breakthrough I had in one of my first companies was that if I hired people faster, smarter, and more capable than me, then all I had to do as leader was to remove blockers and evolve the business fast enough for them to want to stay.
6. You can’t manage culture. Culture is a by-product of how you lead the business; the mission you set and the beliefs you communicate. Beanbags, brainstorming booths and bring your pet to work days are great – but they’re not culture.
7. Vulnerability and personal understanding trump professional ‘separation’. Leaders who ‘act’ as leaders, thinking there are things they should and shouldn’t do to be ‘leaderly’ are immediately distorting. Just be you. Oh, and always deliver on your promises.