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The Question at the Heart of Building a Great Team

If you are building a successful business then you are already aware that your business is only as great as the team you build.

As a recruiter, I get a firsthand view of what sets certain companies apart in building great teams, both in working with these companies directly as clients and from my experience of trying to recruit people away from companies that do an impressive job of cultivating loyalty.

How do some leaders create an environment that attracts and keeps top performers?

If you have never heard Simon Sinek’s 18-minute TED Talk on How Great Leaders Inspire Action, then you owe it to yourself to do so. At the core of this message is the importance of the “why” behind your business and how this will influence your ability to attract customers and employees. This is further expanded in his classic book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.  

One of the standout statements from this talk is “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”  Not simply because you explain this why in your messaging, but because this why is at the core of what you create or the service that you offer.

He explains how this also influences hiring and building a team. “If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.” In cultivating loyalty, a wise leader will make sure that the why stays top of mind for her or his team.

Venture capitalist Fred Wilson articulated similar thoughts in a memorable post titled Loyalists vs. Mercenaries based on his observations of numerous companies over the years:

People are loyal to a mission. I’ve seen super talented people walk away from compensation packages 2-3x what they currently make because they believe in what they are working on and think it will make a difference in their lives and the lives of others…Mission driven companies have something most companies don’t have. They have the “why” that keeps the team together through difficult times and when the compensation isn’t close to “market.”

In this post, he advises, “Make sure you are doing something that matters. If all you are doing is trying to make money for yourself, then all your employees will try to do is make money for themselves.”

Having a clear sense of mission is only part of the story. Fred also shares meaningful insights on the importance of the company’s culture and values

When you are recruiting to build your team, a firm grasp of your company’s “why” is critical in attracting people who are not merely interested in doing a job but who view their time and talents as a form of investment. These investment-minded types are more likely to be top performers and to stick around when the going gets tough.

This question of “why” can also be applied on an individual level, where each team member has a sense of why his or her role exists. Think of the difference it would make for each person to have a clear sense of mission and purpose and an understanding of how he or she fits into the larger purpose.

Whenever I help a company with a search to fill a hiring need, one of my initial questions is “Why does this job exist?” The answer to this question forms the foundation for the job description and often appears in the job summary statement. The responsibilities and objectives of the job and even the competencies we search for in candidates must directly tie into the job’s mission. The combination of the “why” of the role and the “why” of the company is crucial to presenting a compelling value proposition to prospective candidates.

This is even more beneficial as a retention strategy. I can tell you from experience that it is very difficult to recruit someone away from an environment in which he or she is perceived to have a vital role in the company’s success and feels a sense of deep connection to its mission and goals. Instilling this sense of purpose and connection, starting with how you recruit and hire, will contribute significantly to building a winning team. 

Donna White

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