Should You Hire For Skill Or Spirit?

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Companies spend a huge amount of time and resources crafting business strategies. Even so, most of these strategies end in failure.

I saw one company spend half a million dollars and hundreds of employee hours implementing a new strategy, only to admit that it wasn’t working. They had to spend even more money and lay off employees trying to put things back to the way they were before. The next time the company tried to introduce a new strategy, it was met with considerable employee resistance.

If employees don’t buy into a strategy, it’s doomed to failure from the start. After all, strategy doesn’t execute itself. People execute it. This is why it’s vital to integrate strategy and people.

Because people represent the potential of the business, high-growth companies need high-growth employees. Employee development is the key ingredient in breaking through to the next level of growth. Employees have to develop new skills that allow them to perform at higher levels so that they can quickly deliver on the potential of the strategy and the company itself.

While it’s certainly possible to hire for new capabilities, there are tremendous benefits of promoting from within. Just a few benefits include: retaining technical knowledge; honoring the informal, social fabric of the organization; and fostering the culture of the company.

Employee development needs to be included in both strategy creation and execution. There are two main ways to assess people and their development: skills and spirit.

Skills are things that can be trained. A leader can be coached on how to become more influential and engage their team to achieve great results. An employee can be trained technical skills such as engineering, accounting, and marketing that they need to do their jobs really, really well.

Spirit refers to the "soft" skills that can’t be trained effectively. You have to hire for them. These are hard to find but are necessary for a company to function smoothly.

One of these skills is teamwork—the ability to put the needs of the group ahead of personal desires. Another is heart, as in "put your heart into it." This describes true commitment and passionate engagement. Employees with heart take ownership of their jobs and go the extra mile.

One of my clients, a growing manufacturing company, got a huge order that had to be delivered on a rush basis. Everyone at the company had to pull out all the stops to get the job done on time.

Two women working on the manufacturing floor had the idea to make posters to keep track of progress. These were updated several times a day so that everyone could see how close they were to completion. The posters helped keep everyone motivated, and with a lot of extra effort the order was filed with zero errors.

The two women demonstrated both teamwork and heart. They were promoted to management positions shortly afterwards.

Too often, companies hire for skills without enough consideration for spirit. When that happens, you end up with a bunch of wonks who can’t work together. There needs to be a balance between skills and spirit across the entire company.

This same balance needs to exist within individual senior managers. A VP of global marketing at a IT company recently asked me about this. He told me that one of his senior managers had great skills and was a decent leader, but he wasn’t showing any heart—he just didn’t seem to care about the company. The VP said that the manager’s bad attitude was starting to wear off on his entire team.

My reply was clear and simple. I told him that if the manager’s heart wasn’t in it, there were two options: move him into a purely technical position or let him go. Senior managers are a microcosm of your company. They are the role models for other employees. As such, they need to have both skills and spirit.

Integrating strategy and people accelerates the potential growth of any organization and is critical for high-growth companies.

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[Image: Flickr user Roger H. Goun]