The Secret Competitive Advantage to Building a High-Performance Team
Through our Guide to Hiring, we’ve considered all the tactical aspects of hiring, from job descriptions to hiring for sales and support, what to pay your sales and support team, and making a job offer.
Our last topic is the most important, it’s the one topic that impacts your future growth in ways you never imagined. In fact, it’s the #1 secret competitive advantage that very few realize and fewer still, do anything about.
Before we reveal the secret, we need to understand why it’s so important. And perhaps no one can set the stage for this better than Jim Collins, whose research examined 1,435 good companies over the span of 40 years, and found 11 companies who weren’t merely good, they became great companies. Jim distilled for us the common principles that drove their success, he wrote about one of those principles:
“Most people assume that great bus drivers (read: business leaders) immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where they're going—by setting a new direction or by articulating a fresh corporate vision ... In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with ‘where’ but with ‘who.’ They start by getting the right people on the bus, …. good-to-great leaders understand…if you begin with ‘who,’ you can more easily adapt to a fast-changing world. If people get on your bus because of where they think it’s going, you'll be in trouble when you get 10 miles down the road and discover that you need to change direction because the world has changed.”
The world is changing so rapidly, one person cannot keep up with the proliferation of change. The bus driver (leader/entrepreneur) might be at the wheel, but the team advises and helps determine the final direction.
The entrepreneur's secret power has always emanated from great ideas executed well. And where does this power come from? Where does innovation spring from?
Peter Diamandis, founder and chairman of the X Prize Foundation, explained it simply:
“Innovation is the exchange between individuals. I have an idea and I share it with my buddy Naveen, he builds on the idea and shares it back with me. This is a conversation that is back and forth, we can actually see this mathematically [through history], as people moved out of the rural areas, into the cities, into the coffee shops, as the density of their conversations began to increase, so did the innovation.”
So, innovation springs from the exchange of ideas. No surprise there really, but where do the quality of these ideas come from? From the smartest people? The youngest? The most experienced?
Answer: all of the above.
The best ideas come from our differences.
I see the world from a different perspective than you. You see the world from a different perspective than me. Because of these perspectives, we come up with different ideas. As we exchange these ideas, your thought merges with mine and together, we create something unique, a separate idea that neither of us could have come up with on our own.
If you want to build a high-performance team, you need to recruit a group of people who think and act differently from one another.
Why Your Team Acts and Thinks the Same Way (And How to Fix It)
One of the challenges entrepreneurs face when building a business beyond themselves is that they build upon the success they know, in other words, they magnify their own energies by duplicating proven people and processes.
And because they know what success looked like for them, they tend to make future decisions based on their experience. And when it comes to hiring, they hire through their limited lens, their only viewpoint, which means they tend to hire people who think like them, agree with them, act like them, and even look like them. For many, it’s a subconscious process, a reflex, they can’t help it, they know what worked for them and they are hell-bent on duplicating their success, but their limited vision blinds them to greater growth.
When we hire people who think like us and act like us, we end up performing the same actions in the same way, but the market is more fluid than that and the world is moving so much faster. The tactics that brought you success five years ago have changed today, if you hire based on duplicating you and your success, due to the flux of the marketplace and speed of business, you will run head-on into the law of diminishing returns.
Moreover, because you limited your talent pool to people who think like you and act like you, you stifle innovation, which prohibits growth and profitability, and your company suffers because innovation is born out of ideas shared from different perspectives.
Don’t let the term “cultural fit” mislead you into recruiting only types who think like you. In the workplace, the more dissimilar we are as individuals, the greater our potential for success. We want to seek candidates who are culturally additive rather than those who just “fit in.”
In a study produced by McKinsey & Company, organizations with executive teams comprised of differing perspectives were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability, 27% more likely to have superior value creation, and 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability. Conversely, companies who had homogeneous executive teams were 29% less likely to achieve above-average profitability, “in short, they were not leading, they were lagging.”
Since ideas come from our differences, the secret competitive advantage to building a high-performance team is to understand who you might need that is different than you, and then build a team with strongly diverse characteristics, backgrounds, and experiences - purposefully cultivating diversity of thought.
Our entrepreneurial power rests in our proliferation of good ideas executed well. Innovation -whether in the technology we use or simply the creative ideas we come up with for our clients or for our own marketing- is the key to differentiation and progress. Let’s get real: How, specifically, does diversity of thought impact the average distributor?
Creativity is all about perspective: People who are different than us bring value because of insight we can’t see, a viewpoint only they know. A deaf person experiences the world in such a dramatically different way than I do, when they share an idea with me, their experiences expand mine, their thoughts, commingled with mine, produces a better idea. Do you purposefully ideate with people in your organization who think differently than you? Do you gravitate to those who think just like you? Are you comfortable with conflicting ideas and opinions rather than seeking to validate your own?
Collaboration thrives on including+belonging: “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance, and belonging is dancing like no one’s watching. Belonging is the feeling of psychological safety that allows employees to be their best selves at work.”* When people feel secure in their work environment, when they feel like they belong and their ideas are accepted, they don’t fear rejection, they are free to ideate more; they risk more because it’s a safe place to do so. Are you creating a risk-rich environment through the safety of shared ideas?
Clients: Your buyers range from fresh college grads to near-retirees, from entrepreneurs in urban environments to non-profits in the suburbs. Your client base is typically more diverse than your team. Diversity fuels growth because a diverse workforce can connect with a diverse client base. The second most commonly spoken language in the US is Spanish. When I was a distributor, we had an excellent prospect reach out to us, they were an entrepreneurial association that fostered and celebrated business success in the Hispanic community. But we had no one on our team who was proficient in Spanish. It’s not just a political issue. Lack of diversity directly costs you money. In Texas, the third most commonly spoken language is Vietnamese and in California, it’s tagalog. Is your team as diverse as your client base?
Practically speaking, how do we attract more people with a diversity of thought?
We attract more people with a diversity of thought by deliberately going out of our way to find people not like us.
There are many tips out there for how big corporations can become more diverse, which involve HR legislation, initiatives about who to hire, who to buy from, etc. But what about a practical step for the small business owner?
Since this is a series on hiring, let’s start with something simple: take a few extra steps to post jobs in diverse places and purposefully recruit outside of your comfort zone. My father was a double amputee and had a hell of a work ethic, rising at 5 AM every morning to hoist himself into his wheelchair and get to work with his crew, where he cranked wrenches on production equipment. And since he had a hell of a work ethic, he just might be an ideal job candidate for a supplier’s production facility. You might find someone just like him by posting a job on the American Association of People with Disabilities career center.
But remember, let’s not to reduce this conversation down to specific diversity types, this is about attracting a high-performance team and nurturing depth of talent and diversity of thought.
Everyone on your team who occupies a seat on the bus should have a different perspective, a different viewpoint.
Diversity is the art of thinking independently together.*
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*Jim Collins, Good to Great