Book Summary: It’s Not the How or the What but the Who


Book Summary: It’s Not the How or the What but the Who

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Book Summary: It’s Not the How or the What but the Who

The difference between success and failure within companies is marked by the art of great ‘who’ decisions. In ‘It’s Not the How or the What but the Who’, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz shares his lessons about the identification of people who have potential and how companies can help these people develop and deploy. The 21st century business is volatile and complex – and the market for top talent is tight. As a result, organizations and leaders must not base their evaluations on brains, experience or competencies but on potential. Potential is “the ability to adapt to ever-changing business environments and grow into challenging roles”.

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz is senior advisor at Egon Zehnder and was a member of its global executive committee. He is a top global expert on talent and leadership and has been repeatedly ranked by BusinessWeek as one of the most influential executive search consultants in the world. He is the author of two books including “It’s Not the How or the What but the Who” and has published several bestselling articles on the topic of People Decisions.

It’s Not the How or the What but the Who

Outside obstacles and opportunities

Potential is much harder to discern than competence and will be difficult to find in one of the toughest employment markets in history. Globalization, demographics and pipelines make it difficult:

Globalization makes companies reach beyond their home markets, and to be successful, they need people who can help them do so.

Demographics have a huge impact on hiring pools. Many countries will have more people at retirement age than entering the workforce.

Companies can better develop their pipelines of future leaders. A lot of executives have the opinion that their companies are not developing qualified leaders.

The right people

A focus on potential can improve talent spotting at every level of the organization. You can assess potential by taking five indicators into account:

Having the ambition to excel in the pursuit of unselfish goals, such as contributing to collective goals, showing deep personal humility, and self-improvement.

Looking for new experiences, knowledge and feedback. Open to learn and change.

Ability to gather and make sense of information that suggests new possibilities.

Capacity to use emotion and logic to communicate a persuasive vision and connect with people.

Ability to fight for difficult goals despite challenges.

Besides assessing potential it is important to not ignore the other indicators we use to evaluate people; namely intelligence, values and leadership abilities.

Helping your stars shine

Once you engage people with potential, you need to focus on keeping them. Most high potentials are energized by autonomy (the freedom to choose the direction of your life), mastery (the desire to excel) and purpose (the need to serve something larger than ourselves). Salary is important but beyond a certain level it is less important than people think. Potentials need to be paid fairly and need to have autonomy in four “T” dimensions: task, time, team and technique. Set difficult goals for stars that are attainable, eliminate distractions and engage them in a greater organizational team or societal goal.

Stretch development

Stars develop by having opportunities that push them out of their comfort zones. They will continue their growth by pushing them to bigger jobs, budgets and staffs but they will not accelerate. They need uncomfortable challenging jobs, stretching assignments and job rotations.