"... stopping, backing-up and rerouting is how you start on the road to becoming 100% better at anything. Going faster won't help.

As the set-up for our Performance-based Hiring training workshops I ask the recruiters and hiring managers in attendance how much they want to increase their hiring effectiveness over the next year. Their responses typically range from 20% to 100%.

However, I then go on to say that getting 20% better at anything is easy. All you have to do is become more efficient. Even if what you’re doing is wrong, you can still get better by doing it faster. Getting 100% better is a lot harder. In this case you have to stop doing the wrong things and start doing the right things. Surprisingly, if these right things are big enough, you don’t need to be too efficient doing them.

Over the years I’ve learned many lessons on how to do the right things that are big enough, even those that don’t relate to hiring. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Challenge the status quo. Identify some problem that persists at your company and ask to solve it. During my interviews I ask candidates to describe how they changed the status quo. The best people seem to have a big list of things.
  • Build an A-Team. I remember an above average salesperson who became a sales manager because of her coaching skills. When I met her, 9 of her 10 reps were unbelievably in the top 10% of a company that had 750 reps. Point: You don’t have to be the best (fill in some title) to hire, develop and manage the best (same title).
  • Learn to Swim. Volunteer to tackle a big project no one else wants and is over your head. Early in my business career I asked to lead a worldwide expansion study for a new product line. I was totally unqualified for the project but the outcome was far better than anyone expected (since the standards were low) and I was quickly promoted as a result. Learning to swim should be a required merit badge for all managers.
  • Figure out the root cause of a problem by asking lots of dumb questions. Most people are afraid to ask clarifying questions because they don’t want to appear dumb. But asking dumb questions is how you get smart. Asking “Why?” multiple times in order to drill down is how you figure out the root cause of a problem.
  • Answer dumb questions. Those who malign or attack those who ask dumb questions typically don’t know the answers. So I just assume this is the cause of their distress. This relates to one of Stephen Covey’s most important Seven Habits, Seek first to understand, and then be understood. Answering the questions builds trust throughout the team whether you’re leading it or are part of it.
  • Tell your team what’s expected of them. To make sure their teams didn’t waste time, the best managers always clarified job expectations. This was typically a series of clearly stated performance objectives. This was true long before Gallup “discovered” this to be the #1 trait of outstanding managers.
  • Get expectations clarified. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll waste a lot of time getting there. Whether you manage others or not, having a clear action plan figured out ahead of time is essential for getting 100% better. This is another Stephen Covey habit, Begin with the end in mind.
  • Become a subject matter expert (SME) at something important. This is another area I question candidates about. You can learn a lot about a person’s values and motivation by figuring the why and how of something a person chose to become great at. These are the people who have already committed to be 100% better.
  • Help people you don’t need to help become better. When assessing a person’s potential for management I find examples of the person proactively helping other people who are peers. This is the essence of true team skills. This is a direct lesson from Zig Ziglar: You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.
  • Be willing to change direction. Stopping is the first step in getting 100% better at anything. But, if you can’t admit what you’re doing is wrong, misguided or inappropriate, you’ll be limited to 20% efficiency improvements.

Getting 100% better at anything typically requires stopping doing the wrong things before you can start doing the right ones. Unfortunately most people have invested a lot of their efforts and credibility in these wrong things. This is hard to even see and even harder to admit. But stopping, backing-up and rerouting is how you start on the road to becoming 100% better at anything. Going faster won't help.