Thought leadership

Sir Richard Branson has admitted that he would be a difficult employee to manage. His advice? “Look after me, respect me, and accept that I’m a square peg in a round hole”. Sure, it’s easy for a multi-billionaire business magnate to say, but is this realistic advice for the majority of companies? We could always apply Ben Horowitz’s “holding the bus” theory. But does one man’s skilful contribution ever outweigh the importance of the team dynamic, and if so how do we cherry-pick a supreme talent from a sea of competent candidates based on first impressions asks Tom Marsden?

Travis Kalanick, the founder of Uber, is yet another entrepreneur whose ruthless drive and ambition embodies this new wave of disruptive talent, with the Boldness in Business Awards recently naming him their ‘2015 Person of the Year’. His “bold and fearless” approach – as described by colleagues – has surely helped drive his success, but could also be part of the reason why his two previous start-up ventures failed.

It’s true that hiring a strong-minded individual – one who challenges conventional thinking and seeks innovative ways of working – can prove incredibly rewarding to a company. It can equally prove very detrimental, depending on the existing working culture and the team that surrounds them.

Disruptive hires are often found to be a source of destructive, rather than constructive, arguments. The distinction is important: rather than promoting healthy debate, disruptive talents can present an underlying conflict of values and a lack of shared understanding of what’s best for the company – naturally leading to a huge drain on efficiency and productivity. One mismatched personality can disturb even the most stable and well-balanced of teams.

The devil is in the data

The most common solution is bring in costly coaches or consultants but perhaps a more powerful solution lies in the data. Companies have long been using data to measure individual performance, but when hiring new talent, it needs to be used to measure each individual within the context of their team. Fortunately such platforms are becoming increasingly available. Analytics tools that measure the alignment of shared values among team members help to provide companies with a firm understanding of the likely impact of a new recruit on the overall performance and wellbeing of a team.

So, is it really worth accommodating a talented employee if that individual could upset the harmony of the group? It depends. The answer is yes if you can surround them with the right people. People who can tolerate their idiosyncrasies, their square-ness, people who can look after them, respect them and ultimately get the best out of them. All too often we don’t pay attention to the team environment and inevitably end up losing great talent. The answer is ‘no’ if companies don’t understand and can’t qualify how the new hire is going to interact with the rest of their team.

No square pegs in round holes

Companies need to be responsible in hiring the right talent for their teams. They are often very proud of being able to attract ‘great talent’ and what they mean by that is that they have great skills and experience but don’t often talk about the embarrassing situation where their highly talented people can’t seem to work well together.

So the responsibility of the hiring manager is two fold: yes they need to continue to ruthlessly screen for the best skill sets but they’re also responsible for making sure these skilled people can work well together. New data driven tools means they have no excuse for not getting this second part right; such tools provide recruiters with the insight and ultimately the confidence to make more informed judgments about the people they hire.

For Branson, Kalanick and others, the benefits of being the ‘disruptive talent’ in a team have outweighed the negatives. We know about these characters because they’re rare cases, things differ from one company to the next. Using the data available will save businesses from going on gut feel alone when choosing whether or not such individuals will be a good fit, helping them make the right decision.

Tom Marsden is CEO of Saberr

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