AKINYEMI: Attitude and performance in hiring and succession plan

Wednesday December 04 2019

British business magnate Richard Branson says that he hires for attitude and trains for skill. SHUTTERSTOCK


Let us take a look at the dynamics between performance and attitudes. First, there are people who can deliver—great performers who have a great attitude and culture.

Next are the great performers who do not have the right culture and attitude. Third are those who are not great performers but they have a great attitude. And fourth are those who are neither great performers when it comes to delivery or attitude.

The first category (great performers with great attitudes) and the last category (neither great performers nor have great attitudes) are easy to make decisions about. We keep the first category and we let go of the last category.

The part where we need to make tough, well-thought out decisions are with the second and third categories: Great performers with wrong attitudes and poor performers with great attitudes.

British business magnate Richard Branson says that he hires for attitude and trains for skill. I have found that having a great performer with a lousy attitude contaminates the rest of the team, and the environment can get toxic.

It is necessary to let these people go. They may deliver heaven on earth, but we will spend more resources fixing the damage they leave behind.


However, if we opt for attitude and poor performance, we must ensure that the person has the humility to learn and grow and to do it fast.

Spirit angle

Another criteria for succession that is rarely talked about is what I call the spirit angle. The greatest successors are those who carry the spirit of the leader. It is one thing to inherit the office of leadership, and a totally different one to inherit the spirit of leadership.

The office of leadership is given but the spirit of leadership is taken. It is taken by people who have imbibed the spirit of the leader through association, observation and desire. They are then able to add their own unique flavour to the spirit that they inherited.

This means that as a leader you must carry yourself in a way that people want what you have, and I don’t mean your title but what makes the title attractive—the spirit.

Availability vs ability

When you start a business or any endeavour for that matter, what is needed most in terms of human resource is availability.

Because you probably did not have enough money to hire top talent, you started with what was available. As you grow, availability begins to give way to ability.

Many organisations never develop the structure that can handle ability, and so they remain mediocre with cousins and nephews and nieces working with them.

Unfortunately these people become liabilities because they become untouchable and as a result they reduce the overall performance of the organisation.

There are no consequences for their own non-performance and that of those close to them. They stayed at the level of availability when the organisation had moved to the level of ability.

Many organisations do not make the transition because they cannot handle the demands that come with structure.

You started the business and grew the brand to where it became attractive to skilled people. But then the structure and order required to keep it running become challenging especially as it becomes evident that you will have to give up some of your power. Structure means you are doing things differently from when you were everything in the organisation.

If you compare rich nations and developing nations, the one thing that stands out is structure. In rich nations, systems work like clockwork.

Now if you compare rich neighbourhoods (even in developing nations) with poor neighbourhoods, you will see that structure plays a vital role. In the rich neighbourhoods, houses have designated rooms for sleeping, eating, watching television, reading and so on. In the poor neighbourhoods, most things are done in one room.

So also in business. The more structure a business has the more likely it is to succeed and transcend generations.

In many African countries, national wealth is available to leaders because there is no structure to protect it from the hands of corrupt office holders. Structure is the key to excellence.

A person who has been used to doing things their way will find it difficult to operate when structure is introduced. A look at US President Donald Trump shows this glaringly. All his life he has run his businesses his way. His word was law and no one challenged it.

As president he found himself having to deal with terms that he didn’t understand. What is an oversight committee?

“I am the president. I can do what I want,” he has reportedly said on a number of occasions. Then came a court ruling in which the judge said in no uncertain terms that the presidency is not a monarchy. This is a tough pill to swallow for anyone who has lived his whole life barking orders like a king.

Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer, PowerTalks