The Number One Trait of Success

Over the past few weeks I’ve met with hiring managers in the pharmaceutical, gaming, hospitality, manufacturing, social media, Internet, software, data analytics and high technology industries.

They all complained they weren’t seeing enough good people.

I told them all it was because they didn’t know what they were looking for.

Making matters worse, I said all of the recruiters looking for candidates to present to these hiring managers were screening out the best people and sending them the leftovers. To prove it, I suggested the following idea.

How to Identify the Number One Trait of Success

Hiring better people starts by eliminating the use of skills-infested job descriptions. Instead, the hiring managers needed to define on-the-job success and give this criteria to their recruiters to qualify candidates. To figure this out, I asked the hiring managers to answer these three questions:

Define the major objectives. After 6-12 months what will the person hired have accomplished that indicates to you without a doubt that the person is in the top 25% of his or her peer group? This is the biggest challenge facing the person or the major performance objective.
Define the “process of success.” What will the person need to accomplish in the first 30-120 days after starting to indicate to you that the person is on track to accomplish the major objective defined in Step 1? These are the critical subtasks that define the “process of success.”
Define the #1 trait of success. What’s the deal breaker? This is the primary subtask the person needs to be able to do to ensure all of the other subtasks are achieved. This is the number trait of success.

Some examples will help clarify the importance of defining work as a series of critical performance objectives. The most important trait of success is the deal breaker in all of these steps, and it’s different for every job.

Some Major Objectives

Hiring managers must know what the person in the job needs to do to achieve success. For the sales jobs it was achieving some quantifiable level of sales, some level of territory penetration and some continuing growth rate. For a logistics position it was implementing a new worldwide distribution system that met FDA requirements for a new type of drug that required customized handling. Success for a product management spot was having developed a working prototype and having an approved plan in place for a multi-channel rollout within six months.

Subtasks - The Process of Success

Once the major objectives are understood the primary subtasks need to be identified. For the sales jobs initially it was learning the product lines and preparing territory plans. For the logistics position it was evaluating the current processes and identifying the big gaps in the first 30 days. For the product management spot it was figuring out the technical challenges intertwined with the competitive landscape. Collectively, these and all of the other subtasks represent “the process of success” leading to the achievement of the major objective.

The Deal Breaker, aka “The Most Important Trait of Success”

Typically there is one subtask that is the most important link in the chain of events. To identify this I asked the hiring managers to identify the one factor or trait that represents the tipping point for success. For most of the sales positions it was getting access to the decision makers and having these people open the doors to conduct full discovery. For the logistics position it was to quickly get on top of all the existing transportation challenges before the person could even begin building a new system. For the product manager spot it was identifying the current technical challenges and determining if the existing team was capable of meeting the aggressive product launch schedule.

I then suggested the hiring managers needed to make sure their recruiters understood their jobs inside-out before they ever talked with another candidate. Then before ever agreeing to meet another candidate have the recruiter provide evidence that the candidate has mastered the deal breaker trait.

After the session one of the hiring managers came over and hugged me. Her comment heard by all said it all, “At last!”

Quite frankly, if the hiring manager doesn’t understand the actual job and what it takes to be successful, they’ll discard and hire people for all the wrong reasons. However, once they know what it takes to be successful, they need to make sure they also understand the tipping point. This is the most important trait of success – it's the deal breaker. Then they must be willing to talk with anyone who can demonstrate they possess this trait and not hire anyone who doesn’t.

At last!