Welcome everyone. I’m your host, Greg McKeown, and I am here with you on this journey to learn how to make our highest contribution.
Have you ever felt working with people in the workplace is harder than it needs to be? It’s longer than thought that it’s faster and easier to just do things yourself, but this can be such a false economy. What we know now is that the right person makes everything faster, easier, and better than if you try to do it yourself.
By the end of this part four in the series of four parts about how to make work life more effortless, you will be able to select people who make getting the right things done faster and comparatively more effortless. Let’s get to it.
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Steve Hall is a friend of mine and a highly successful entrepreneur, and he told me about a controller he once hired to help manage the finances for his automotive company. It wasn’t until the controller had been with the company for five years that Steve stumbled on a $300,000 accounting discrepancy. When he questioned the controller, she was apologetic. She made it seem like a well-intentioned mistake, but Steve and his CFO had their doubts. They were no longer sure that they could trust her in that position and decided to find a replacement.
However, this all came at a time when the business was growing rapidly, and they didn’t want to deal with the potential disruption. So instead of firing her, they decided to build support around her. Five years later, they discovered that the $300,000 mistake had turned into $1.6 million stolen from the business. When she learned that she’d been caught, she resigned via text message and left town. No one at the company ever heard from her again. In hindsight, Steve admits my mistake was even worse than hiring someone I didn’t trust. I hired her, she lost my trust, and I continued to have her stay on long after she’d lost that trust.
Last week in episode three of this four-part series, I shared research that illustrates that if you can eliminate four out of five meetings, you will increase your productivity in your organization. Go back and listen to episode 192 to understand that research and why that is the case, but I reference it now because it raises a question, how can you accomplish more with less meetings, less management effort?
If you’re not going to meet with people in meetings, how do you make sure that the work gets done? And of course, there’s more than one answer to this, but one answer is you hire people you trust, and then you trust them completely. Being able to do that, and I’m reading now from chapter 14, Trust the Engine of High Leverage Teams in Effortless from Effortless, page 189.
“Hiring someone trustworthy starts a simple and obvious step, but one that many routinely overlook. Make sure you are hiring someone honest and honorable, someone you can trust to uphold a high standard when nobody’s looking. But hiring someone who is trustworthy is also about hiring someone conscientious, someone you can trust to uphold their responsibilities, to use good judgment, to do what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it, and to do it well. It’s someone you don’t have to supervise or micromanage, or I should add, have meetings with all the time, someone who understands the team’s goals and who cares as much as you do about the quality of the essential work to be done.”
“Warren Buffet, who, of course, is someone who has demonstrated an extraordinary ability to gain high ROI, return on investment, but also someone who has achieved spectacular return on effort or ROE, and one of the ways he does that is by using three criteria for determining who is trustworthy enough for him to hire or to do business with. He looks for people with high integrity, intelligence, and initiative that we had is that without the first, the other two come backfire.”
I like to think about this as the Three I’s Rule.
So coming back to Steve Hall, after this disaster with his controller, he had to find a replacement, and rather than blaming the whole thing on just one bad apple, he and the CFO looked long and hard for any ways in which they might have unwittingly enabled the problem to occur.
This honest self-assessment helped them to see how they needed to improve their hiring process. They had hired the most recent controller haphazardly by way of an off-the-cuff suggestion from a supplier. Going forward, they committed to a new process. It involved more time and effort upfront, but Steve now understood that investing wisely in recruiting, interviewing, and onboarding once could reduce his risk many, many times over.
His new hiring criteria mirrored the Three I’s Rule. In the end, they hired a man who had no experience in the automotive industry at all. He’d run accounting for a law firm, but he was a complete fit on integrity, intelligence, and initiative. A self-starter with an unimpeachable ethic and the ability to figure out problems on the fly, or put more simply, they really trusted him. Austin has been a valued member of the company for years now; even after the business was sold to a Fortune 500 company, he was kept on. He’s been promoted three times since. The high-trust hire turned out to be one of the company’s highest performers.
When you can say these four little words, I trust your judgment and mean them. It’s like magic. Team members feel empowered. They take a risk, they grow, trust is strengthened, and then it tends to spread.
As executive coach Kim Scott writes in her bestselling book Radical Candor, “When people trust you and believe you care about them, they are more likely to engage in this same behavior with one another, meaning less pushing the rock up the hill again and again.”
Hiring someone is, of course, a single decision that produces effortless results. You get it right once, and this is exactly the thing of it. Trust is the engine oil for high-performing teams. We all know that you need to add oil to a car engine in order to keep it operating, but not everyone understands exactly why. It’s because, inside the engine, the many fast-moving parts can create friction. When they rub up against each other, the oil is the lubricant that keeps those parts sliding smoothly instead of wearing each other down. So this is why if the engine runs out of oil, your car will stall or even grind completely to a halt. And that sounds a lot like what happens in low-trust relationships on low-trust teams, doesn’t it? Inside every team, many people with interrelated roles and responsibilities moving at, you hope at least, high speed, and without trust, conflicting goals, priorities, and agendas rub up against each other, creating friction and wearing everyone down. If the team runs out of trust, it is likely to stall or Sutter out. Trust is like the engine oil for the team. It’s the lubricant that keeps these people working together smoothly so that the team can continue to function.
The key, therefore, to getting effortless results in and across teams is to have systems in place to ensure that the engine is constantly well-oiled. And the best way I know how to leverage trust in order to get residual results is simply to select trustworthy people to be around in the first place. Hiring someone is a single decision that produces effortless results. You get it right once, and that person adds value hundreds of times over. You get it wrong once, and it can cost you repeatedly. It’s like skimping on a shoddy oil filter. It might keep the engine running smoothly in the short term, but the moment that filter starts leaking, it will cause problems throughout the entire system.
Who we hire is a disproportionately important decision that makes a thousand other decisions. Each new hire may well influence future hires, gradually shifting the norms and the culture over time.
Often there will be a pressure to fill a role immediately as the vacancy creates a short-term headache, but while hiring quickly may lighten the load at first, hiring well will lighten the load consistently and repeatedly, saving you many more headaches in the long run.
Indeed, I address this in Essentialism as well, where I talked about how important it is to be ridiculously selective in hiring people. A nonessentialist tends to hire people fanatically, impulsively, even then gets too busy or distracted to either dismiss or reskill the people keeping the team back.
At first, the hiring bonanza seems justified because of the pace of growth that must be sustained, but in reality, one wrong hire is far costlier than being one person short, and one wrong hire often leads to multiple wrong hires because the wrong person will tend to attract more wrong people, is what Guy Kawasaki called a Bozo explosion, a term he used to describe what happens when a formerly great team or company descends into mediocrity. He was referencing, by the way, what happened to Apple in those middle days when that company went from having produced great products and great results and fell almost into bankruptcy.
An essentialist, on the other hand, is ridiculously selective on talent. She has the discipline to hold out for the right hire no matter how many resumes she has to read or interviews she has to conduct, or talent searches she has to make, and doesn’t hesitate to remove people who hold the team back. The result is a team full of all-star performers whose collective efforts add up to more than the sum of their parts, and that’s what you want is to surround yourself with high trust people and then to trust them completely.
Thank you. Really thank you for listening. This was part four in a four-part series on how to apply effortless thinking to the world of work. A place we all know is often anything but effortless. What is one idea that stood out to you in today’s episode, and what is one thing you can do in one minute or less to apply what you have learned, and who is one person who you can share your insight with? For the first five people who write a review of this episode on Apple Podcasts, you’ll receive free access to the Essentialism Academy. Just go to gregmckeown.com/podcastpromo, and I’ll see you next time.