The prompt for this note came from an email on the recent American Football match between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Even if you’re not a sports fan (or not a fan of this particular sport), you can relate to what happened. With two minutes to go, the Bengals were leading by one point. All they had to do was run down the clock, be sensible and a major victory was theirs. However the team seemed to implode. Penalties flew and their one point advantage ended up being a two point loss! How?
If we play a game, including the game of business, we need results. It’s no good playing and not playing to win. However, in the pursuit of results, we can get seduced by talent.
Talented people can look very attractive to us and, having recruited them, we often put them in positions of high impact. However, talented people are most dangerous when they’re in the wrong place. If talented individuals are not a cultural fit and not aligned with what the company is trying to achieve short and long term, when their contribution is negative, it gets amplified and can be disastrous. In the above match, there was bad behaviour on both sides but what seemed to be there for the taking was, it seemed, needlessly squandered.
But we need people that can perform right? Back to sport for a bit… (don’t worry, it makes sense even if this is not your thing 🙂 )
For those who can remember, Brian Clough led the English team Nottingham Forrest to two consecutive European Cup victories (the highest level a club could reach in those days). If you looked at his team sheet, you’d notice – on paper at least – a distinct lack of talent. Yes, there were a couple of international players but they were a distinct minority. Together as a team though, they were magical.
The 2004 film “Miracle” tells the story of how a young U.S. ice hockey team beat the all-conquering Soviet Union (as it was in those days) in the Winter Olympics of 1980. (And I personally remember the original match clearly by the way!) The Soviet team had won the last four Olympics and beaten the U.S. 10 – 3 just prior to the start of the 1980 games. In one telling scene, the U.S.’s coach Herb Brooks tells the team “do you think you can win on talent alone? Gentlemen, you don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone!”
The importance of a team’s purpose, its values and the culture those values create can’t be overestimated. Yes, the environment is competitive when it comes hiring talented performers. It may be tough to not hire someone who looks like a superstar. But if they are not a good cultural fit, they can cause you serious harm as they’ll usually be in a key position when things go wrong!
Be clear on your values, purpose and goals. If you think you need someone’s skills, check the person fits first.
For more advice on how to find out if someone is fit for your company, check out Ian’s blog or contact him.