The Realities of Business Life

stuart crainer

In business things are often not what they seem. Stuart Crainer presents the realities of business life.

We don’t recruit the best people for the job, we recruit people like us.

I have rarely been in the position of interviewing someone for a job. The one occasion I can remember doing so, I recall selecting the applicant on the basis of sympathy rather than aptitude. She turned out to be ill suited to the job.

Like most people I want to be helpful. I would like to give people work. I would like to find the right person for the job and give it to them.

But I am unlikely to recruit them if they are manifestly better than me at what I think I am good at. I won‘t do that. People tend not to.

Another but: I am likely to recruit people if they have the same skills, limitations, chips on their shoulder etc which I possess. I like them because they are like me.

Unfortunately, more of the same is not what any organization needs.

We do what worked yesterday.

I know the chief HR person at a very large European company. He has previously had the same job at another big company in the United States and one in France. He does the same thing in each job. He commissions some expensive research to prove how bad the company’s HR management is. Then he shows this to the board. Appalled the board gives him power — and budget — to sort things out. He brings in expensive consultants who draw up a plan. He then starts implementing the plan. Then he leaves. Job done.

In job after job you see people doing what worked in their previous job. The trouble is that is history. What worked in the past will not work as well today or tomorrow.

We do what worked somewhere else.

CEOs are routinely appointed to jobs because their particular success formula worked in a completely different industry. The thinking is simply that what worked elsewhere will work here.

That’s why John Sculley was brought in to follow Steve Jobs at Apple. Selling flavoured carbonated water was seen as a stepping stone to running a technology company. It didn’t work.

To clinch the deal, there is also an exaggerated faith in the power of leadership. Great leadership, it is thought, crosses all boundaries. Leaders provide leadership no matter what the context.

It doesn’t and they don’t. Soccer coaches rarely venture into basketball. Winston Churchill might not have made a great CEO. Nelson Mandela might have found his leadership stretched if leading a back-biting bunch of salesmen intent on meeting their personal targets first and foremost.

What worked in retailing in up state New York will not work in magnesium extraction in Zambia. Why would it?

We are better at talking than doing.

Most executives are great armchair theorists. They talk a good talk. That is how you get on.

But, I have repeatedly observed a reverse correlation: the more expert people are in a particular subject, the less likely they are to be able to implement the said expertise.

For example, I have met one of the world’s foremost thinkers on how to manage change. He has spent his entire career with one employer and appears more adept at putting on his slippers and sitting happily in front of the fire than instigating change.

Similarly, I have met leadership experts who can‘t lead, marketers who wouldn’t know where to begin marketing themselves and strategy consultants who have pursued the wrong strategies repeatedly and insistently.

So, recruit people who are different from yourself, who have experience which is related, who promise not to do what they have done elsewhere and who do not profess to be experts in anything at all. That’s it.


Stuart Crainer is co-founder of the Thinkers50.

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