There is a common saying: our perspective is limited by the best we’ve ever seen (up close). Vocap Partner Mike Becker got a reminder of this concept on the golf practice range recently. He noticed the guy next to him hitting one beautiful swing after another, intentionally dropping balls into divots and still shaping each shot exactly the way he wanted. Mike thought: this guy is unbelievable; he must be on the PGA Tour. Turns out he’d been struggling on the Florida Sunshine Tour for years and was considering dropping out. His swing wasn’t holding up under tour conditions and he couldn’t hit key pressure putts. What appeared great to Mike based on his untrained eye was well below average for a touring professional.
If you’ve built a company to significant scale before, you’ve likely experienced this in your business career over time: candidate or employee X looks like a superstar to you initially. You think - this person must represent the pinnacle of their job title. Then, at some point down the line, you were exposed to more people in that role and became aware person X isn’t as great as you thought. It’s not that person X was bad or even mediocre, it’s just that more exposure opened your eyes to what truly world class looks like. You develop a new standard for an exceptional leader/manager in that role.
Founders should internalize this concept, especially those who have less experience growing companies to significant scale. Always check yourself on whether you really know what world class looks like. How does a world-class sales leader build and drive execution on her team? How do top product leaders stay on top of market needs and consistently deliver solutions that beat the competition? How do great COOs and CFOs integrate the functional areas and leverage metrics and data to help the overall company drive strong execution? In short, how do you know when you have ‘great’ talent on your team or in your candidate funnel?
First, start with your mentality. The most successful entrepreneurs assume the best they’ve seen is somewhere short of world class, true or not. This attitude does a few things:
A quick word of caution: don’t let this mentality shift become paralyzing. You have to hire the best person you can attract at that time.
Here are a few other practical suggestions for how to identify ‘great’ talent if you don’t have direct experience to guide you: