First Who, Then What

First Who, Then What

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Opinion: After graduating from my MBA program at Arizona State University (Go Devils!), I started a leadership development program with a healthcare company in the Phoenix area. In my MBA program, I learned about economic models such as the Cobb-Douglas production function (which describes the relationship between labor, capital, and productivity, and how these inputs work together to produce economic output.). I learned how people work together and how to motivate employees in my Organizational Behavior class. I read countless case studies about how leaders drove their teams to be successful through strategic initiatives and programs. It wasn’t until I finished my MBA program and started my leadership development program that I learned a valuable lesson about working with people: when making hiring decisions, follow the mantra “First Who, Then What.”

The “First Who, Then What” mantra focuses on the people in an organization, rather than the various positions within an organization. Empirical evidence suggests that labor is much more influential than capital in an economy’s production. Labor is and will continue to be the production input that generates the greatest output. Therefore, it is vital for the success of any organization to hire people who are bright, motivated, and engaged. As such, leaders should constantly be on the lookout for quality employees who can bring unique talents and abilities to the table. Finding the right people is much more important than filling vacant positions within an organization. High-quality people do not always have the “right” experience, education, or background, yet they will embrace the challenge of learning a new role. These individuals will bring creativity, innovation, and new insights to the role and the organization. Diverse teams are proven to be more effective, more creative, and more cohesive than teams that are comprised of people with the same education and work experience. While diversity in a team may lead to more disagreement and conflict, many business leaders believe that conflict is actually good for the success of a team. Conflict helps people identify problems, and critically find solutions. The conflict diverse teams elicit helps to fight against age-old problems, such as groupthink and the free rider problem. The “First Who, Then What” mantra will help hiring managers to find diverse employees who will take their teams to the next level.      

Looking for candidates with great personalities who fit an organization’s culture is essential, as these employees are more likely to share the company’s vision and goals. Hiring people for culture fit is an important element of “First Who, Then What.” As hiring managers interview potential candidates, they should keep in mind the organization’s core values and how well each candidate fits into the core values. A candidate whose personal values match well with the company’s will be more successful in the organization. Core values helps to shape company culture, and employees who share common values with the organization will feel more engaged and excited about their work. Having high employee engagement improves job satisfaction. High job satisfaction can reduce turnover, which in turn reduces hiring and training costs and improves results. Hiring people who match an organization’s culture are also much more likely to be good ambassadors for the company. In the age of social media, every employee is an ambassador. As such, every employee in an organization should be considered a salesperson because each employee can easily impact consumers in the community. Employees who love their jobs are more likely to say good things about their company to people in their networks. Perhaps more importantly, highly engaged employees will not say negative things about their company to potential customers. Hiring people who care about the organization and want the organization to succeed is more important for the long-term success of the organization than finding people who can do a particular job. “First Who, Then What” encourages managers to find people who will take ownership, rather than find someone to do a job and ‘punch in-punch out.’

The “First Who, Then What” philosophy is counter-intuitive. Hiring managers often look to fill a role rather than look for people with unique skills that could help their organization move forward. Rather than look to fill a role, leaders should create custom roles that play to a person’s strengths, skills, experience, and education. In so doing, these managers will create a team of diverse individuals who will work together to achieve incredible results.

So the next time you are looking to add human capital to your organization, remember: “First Who, Then What!” You won’t be disappointed.  

Follow this author on Twitter: @samuelgardner89      

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