Do You Study People?

Many firms nurture corporate cultures through careful hiring practices. For startups and young growing firms, these practices represent a one-time opportunity to start with a clean slate and build a culture. For example, Google screens for “Googliness” – defined as “a mashup of passion and drive that’s hard to define but easy to spot.” Zappos looks for “weirdness” in its search for innovation and a culture of happy employees.

Successful leaders in every organization are surrounded by great people. Motivating them is critical. Leaders often propagate their culture by finding people like themselves, with similar values, goals, and incentives.

Dave Brandon, CEO of Toys “R” Us, tells a different story. As a serial CEO who has made a career out of reenergizing mature organizations, he finds success in studying individuality. He notes that everyone on his team is a little different, and understanding those differences is critical to identifying their motivations to excel. He says his most important job as a leader is finding out how people want to be treated and treating them that way.

Key to that observation is the recognition of uniqueness – managing people as individuals. Jack Welch noted the importance of understanding uniqueness in his book, Straight from the Gut. “In manufacturing, we try to stamp out variance. With people, variance is everything.” He went on to say that “Getting the right people in the right jobs is a lot more important than developing a strategy.” That focus on studying people and developing their talent accordingly was a key element of Welch’s approach at GE, and one that has been incorporated by many successful leaders.

Do you spend time studying the people on your team?

Eric Johnson
About the author: 

M. Eric Johnson is the Dean of Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management and the Bruce D. Henderson Professor of Strategy. In that role, Johnson oversees Vanderbilt’s six graduate business degree programs involving 700 students, faculty, and staff. He also anchors a video series on business and blogs on leadership. Previously he served as Associate Dean for the MBA program at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, where he was also Faculty Director of the Center for Digital Strategies. He holds a B.S. in Economics, B.S. in Engineering, M.S. in Engineering from Penn State University, and a Ph.D. in Engineering from Stanford University.  Follow him on Twitter.