Selecting Superior Employees

4 Valuable Things to Focus on. Superstars: Fact or Fiction.

I always like the 80/20 rule. Pareto Principle eighty percent of the work is done by twenty percent of the people. That’s fine, but how do we identify and take care of the twenty percent? How do we be sure we are hiring one of them? In this article we will try to answer the first question of how do we identify these superior employees and we’ll address taking care of them in a later article.

Everyone wants to hire a superstar, but when asked to describe one, most executives are at a loss for words. Or, they usually say, “You know what I want!” What is the make-up of a superior employee and can we agree on those components? The old question is whether or not superior employees are born that way, or can they be developed into such.

There are a lot of answers to these questions, and I do not claim to know all of the answers, but having placed hundreds of high performance leaders inside multinational companies, I do have an opinion. For those seeking to hire superstars or become one, it pays to be able to separate FACT from fiction. If we keep our F, A, C, Ts straight, we can’t fail.

The letter “F” in “FACTs” reminds us of the need for great employees to be fast. Today’s multinational companies need to be first at something. This requires speed to market; speed in the development of a product; or rapidly responding to a customer’s need. We need employees are quick to grab onto new concepts/opportunities and then run with them.

For example, the sales organization of a typical multinational company has changed quite a bit. In the past a salesman worked only as outside salesman. They would present their product or service to the customer, take their order and then process it. That was the bulk of their accountability. But today’s salesman may work on inside sales as well as outside accounts or manage distributors, key accounts or all of the above. Multiple strategies are needed to reach these different customers. It takes smart and able sales executives who can respond to these various needs quickly.  

The salesman gets to know the customers within the organization he or she is selling to, such as marketing leaders, research & development directors as well as the CEO. The superstar salesman listens to the customer, gathers feedback, and reports his findings to leaders within his own company. Then he must sale to his own company ideas of making changes to their products or services to meet the needs of the customer. Timing is everything, so a fast response to the customers’ needs is pivotal to the success or failure of the business opportunity.  It takes a very different person today to be a salesman in a multinational company as they must rely on building a strong network of relationships, develop modern sales techniques, learn how to sell ideas internally as well as externally and be fast or quicker than the competition.

The letter “A” in “FACTs” reminds us that superstars are adaptable.  Who am I?  What is mine? In traditional Korean companies, a person’s title and area of responsibility is clearly defined and no one steps over the fences erected.  In multinational companies, a superstar must be flexible as well as adaptable to the constant change of responsibilities of the task and be a team player.

Instead of having a reporting structure of only one person, a matrix system is common place in multinational companies.  A superstar is able to adapt to reporting to multiple bosses at the same time for different tasks. This morning he might present a marketing report to the CEO in Korea and this afternoon have a report prepared on new product testing to the Asia-wide category leader located in Hong Kong.  A superstar must be adaptable to various cultures and leadership styles.

The letter “C” in “FACTs” reminds us that superstars possess strong communication skills.  English language fluency in reading, writing and comprehension is a basic requirement for superstars. 

According to Webster, one definition of communication is the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing or signs. So, if we are all speaking the same language, why do we misunderstand each other? Well, I don’t have all of the answers but I have a few of them to consider.

The challenge comes from the cultural background of Koreans in comparison with Westerners. We might be speaking the same English language to each other but the interpretation or understanding can be quite different. Koreans are often classified as a collectivist society, with the goal of communication being to maintain harmony, while Westerner cultures are classified as individualistic societies, with the goal of communication being information.

Koreans are emotional, easily embarrassed and really take feelings into account. Westerners tend to lean toward being more logical, impersonal, and tend to separate issues from their feelings.

For example Koreans will often give positive answers to avoid disturbing harmony or hurting feelings:

Yes (in answer to a negative)

I'll try / do my best / if I can

I personally agree / want to do it

I agree with you in principle

I sympathize with your position

However, the Westerner views factual answers to impart information and to show sincerity:

No (in answer to negative)

I cannot because

I disagree

Superstars learn the differences in communication styles and develop strong communication skills to be successful in multinational companies. This strength allows them to move within the organization and sometimes even to other divisions of the company in other countries.

Finally, the “T” in “FACTs” represents the “Tactical” nature that superstars possess. Too often individuals in companies get stuck at the strategy portion of a company’s goals and objectives.  A Superstar knows that it takes tactics to turn a strategy into action.

Being able to think tactically means being able to ensure that strategy turns into concrete steps the company and team can take to get everyone on board the train, and head to the destination of choice. A tactically savvy employee is worth his or her weight in gold. They don’t just talk about where to go and what to do – they get things done.

Tactically skilled employees know how to persuade; pull, push, and get buy-in from the organizations many parts in order to ensure that personal issues, egos, and minor operating obstacles don’t stop strategy from becoming reality. They sometimes overstep their mandate, but only with the intention of ensuring things don’t get held up.

If one will consider the four valuable things of fast, adaptable, communications, and tactical skills in potential employees the odds are greater that you will identify and hire more Superstar employees.

Steven B. McKinney is the founder and president of McKinney Consulting an Executive Search and Leadership Consulting firm based in Seoul, Korea, a Certified Master Coach with Leadership Coaching Strategies from Harvard University. www.mckinneyconsulting.com

Tags: executive, search, headhunter, recruit, recruiter, consulting, leadership, korea, south korea, start-up