Since I haven’t harped/amplified on the critical role of talent in tough times in awhile, I thought I’d highlight a couple of tidbits from a recent Fortune interview with Jim Collins on How Great Companies Turn Crisis into Opportunity. The sub-head sums it up pretty well “In troubled times a business needs enduring values, the best talent, and an ability to “zoom out” an see past the chaos in front of it.”
And yes, I suppose with my mantra of taking a holistic view and then acting pragmatically, I could just as well emphasize the “zoom out” message, but it was the following excerpts on talent that caught my attention. (emphasis is mine)
Fortune: So what did they [enduring companies] do to get through the tough times?
Collins: …The other thing worth mentioning is that these companies, when they went through the Depression, really understood that it was the caliber of their people that would get them through. If there’s a storm on the mountain, more important than the plan are the people you have with you.
…If you go back in history, a few companies used difficult times to bolster their legions of talent. After World War II, all the government labs were shutting down, and engineers were streaming out. Hewlett-Packard was actually going through a layoff. But at the same time, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard said the greatest opportunity they ever got wasn’t technology; it was the opportunity to hire those engineers.
Fortune: But in a time of no credit and slowing demand, how does a company afford to bring people in?
Collins: [Hewlett-Packard’s] answer was, How can we afford not to do it? You have to make the wherewithal. If you do not find a way to get those great people, you’re not thinking long term enough. In the long-term research into tumultuous environments that Morten and I are doing, we find that great companies manage for the quarter-century…
Fortune: How do you distinguish the truly great talent from the rest?
Collins: The right people don’t need to be managed. The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake.
The right people don’t think they have a job: They have responsibilities. If I’m a climber, my job is not [just] to belay. My responsibility is that if we get in trouble, I don’t let my partner down.
The right people do what they say they will do, which means being really careful about what they say they will do. It’s key in difficult times. In difficult environments our results are our responsibility. People who take credit in good times and blame external forces in bad times do not deserve to lead. End of story.
The interview is a good, quick read. Check it out.