You can find them at every company— the good guys, the hard workers, the eager beavers, the workhorses. Companies need these people, or at least most of them. But what is increasingly separating the great companies from the stragglers is outstanding talent— the number of exceptionally talented, not just average, players that a company has.
I’ve been fortunate to have met and worked with a great number of people throughout my career and it’s very rarely a surprise to me to see a headline about a particular company, that I know well, that has lost significant market share, had to seriously retool themselves or goes under. 90% of the time, these companies have unimpressive people at the helm, people who just stayed too long or the company simply didn’t invest in "rock stars."
In the late ‘80s, companies were big on training, ‘developing and promoting from within’ – ultimately creating ‘lifers’ who would hopefully stay with a firm from college to retirement.
Those days are over. There’s simply no time for that in most industries. Competition is so fierce that companies that do not have the best of the best and bring new ideas and talent on board find themselves missing the boat.
I was recently speaking to an executive at a well-known brand in the Midwest that left a market very shortly after shipping their first product. I asked him what happened and he shared with me that the company thought they could train their existing staff to develop contemporary mobile software. This was a company known for its weak interface design but somehow the management team thought they could send everyone to ‘boot camp’ and turn them into Apple UX clones. On top of that, the engineering team had a 9-to-5 mentality and lacked the passion of their competitors in Silicon Valley and China. Not one new hire was made out of the iOS or Android space. No wonder their product bombed!
A Bay Area company recently looked into the dark abyss of ‘failed companies’ before it was pulled out and ‘re-tooled’. We spoke to a number people at all levels there, frankly, hoping to recruit them. One thing was perfectly clear after those discussions—the company hired smart people with virtually no prior relevant experience. I’m all for the top-tier education but nothing can overcompensate for experience. Many bad product decisions were made and ultimately the marketing and development teams created a product that couldn’t be manufactured.
‘Good enough’ is no longer the benchmark. You don’t need everyone in the company to be outstanding but you do need the right people to be outstanding. Investing in that talent won’t be cheap—but bringing them on early enough and fast enough is what differentiates great companies from good enough companies.