The Secret of Success

I’ve been tracking the success of most of my candidates, and many of my clients, for the past 20 years. After a few years of doing this, it became apparent that there were four traits ó all observable during a 60 to 75 minute interview ó that highly predicted subsequent success. Of those four, one stands out as the universal core trait of all success. Candidates without this trait rarely succeed in any field. Those with it tend to do anywhere from fairly well to great, regardless of the work they do. Of course, I’m referring to self-motivation ó otherwise known as work ethic. The best people tend to do more work. They go the extra mile. They hang in there when the going gets tough. They make more calls, complete their work ahead of schedule, and then volunteer for more. They stay late to complete the project on schedule despite the obstacles. They don’t make excuses; they make it happen. And they do this every day, every week, every year. It’s a habit. Don’t mistake self-motivation for an outgoing personality or for someone who is assertive during the interview. Many hiring mistakes are made this way. Understanding what personal energy is ó and what it isn’t ó can prevent costly hiring mistakes. Turned around, knowing how to accurately measure it during the interview can be the key to hiring outstanding people. Talent can take a person only so far. Personal energy is the real core trait of success. I use this simple formula to demonstrate the importance of personal energy: Impact = Talent x Energy2. Talent without energy is lost potential. We’ve all met talented people who just get by. What a shame. It’s sad to see such brilliance wasted. We’ve also seen people of average talent achieve extraordinary success through sheer willpower and determination. It’s inspiring. Look for this in your candidates. Don’t compromise on personal energy, or you’ll wind up with a competent but unmotivated new employee. I’ll always recommend a less talented but highly motivated person over a more talented but less committed rival. Understanding candidate motivation is the key to improving your hiring processes, and it only takes two simple steps to better match candidate motivation with job needs. First, find out the key deliverables required for job success. For sales, this is usually something like increasing the percent of new clients, or making a certain number of calls per day. For an engineering design spot, it might be something like completing the prototype on schedule under tight time pressures without all of the resources, or working with a cross-functional team to complete the product spec. For a management position, these deliverables usually involve building a team to improve performance or completing a project on a budget and on schedule. Regardless of the job, this is the first step: determine the deliverables essential to job success. The next step is to find candidates who are both competent and motivated to do this work. Unfortunately, most recruiters and hiring managers focus too much on the competency part, and not enough on motivation. It’s been my experience that the best candidates have 70%-90% of the competency, but 120% of the motivation. During the interview, ask candidates to give you examples of their most significant accomplishments. Then spend 10 to 15 minutes understanding what they really accomplished and the process they used to accomplish it. Get examples of things they changed, problems they solved, where they took the initiative, and why they sometimes stayed late. Also, ask about aspects of the accomplishment that turned them off. Find out why, and what they did about. Competency and motivation will quickly reveal themselves. Then do this again for another accomplishment at a different period in time. Then do it again. Then connect the dots, and observe the trend of these accomplishments over time. Changes in impact, competency, and motivation will be revealed by this type of interviewing approach. Now compare what the candidate has achieved and what you need done. If the results are comparable and the motivation is there, you’ve just found yourself a great candidate. The best people work harder and stay committed when they are doing work that excites them. Don’t just listen to what the candidate says. Assess what they have done. This is how we uncover true motivation. Talent is the core of personal success, but it can be leveraged up or down profoundly by self-motivation. All the talent in the world won’t help if a person is uncommitted, misses deadlines, or just doesn’t care. Someone of modest ability can achieve greatness if they work hard, hang in there when the going gets tough, and go the extra mile every time. Don’t compromise on self-motivation for the sake of talent. It’s always a bad trade-off. From my observations, the second core trait of success is an offshoot of self-motivation. It’s the ability to motivate others, including those who don’t report to you. Like personal energy, it has a similar leveraging effect. Real leaders have the ability to tap into the personal energy of other people. That’s why the best managers understand what motivates each team member to perform at peak levels. Tapping into the energy of other people, especially those who don’t work for you, is a rare gift. When I ask about most significant accomplishments, I’m looking at both individual and team results. This way, these two core traits of success ó self-motivation and team motivation ó can both be more accurately assessed. Like personal energy, there are varying degrees of team leadership skills. At the low end, this means being uncooperative and self-absorbed. These people literally suck the energy out of others. Just being cooperative puts someone in the mid-range. Moving up, you’ll see those who go out of their way to help others. At the highest level, you’ll observe great managers who match a person’s motivating interests to real job needs, and those that inspire us to go beyond what we thought possible. Hiring great people is all about finding people who are both motivated and competent to do the work that needs to get done. This is the real job of every recruiter and hiring manager. Call it personal energy, self-motivation, commitment, persistence, or work-ethic: it’s the core trait of success. It has nothing to do with affability and an extroverted personality demonstrated in the interview. Just as many quiet people have high energy as outgoing people. And just as many outgoing people have little work ethic. Many try to get by on personality and interpersonal skills, especially during the interview. Don’t buy into the con. Find out what motivates a person to perform at peak levels. Then compare this to your job needs. If you withhold your judgment for the first 30 minutes of the interview, you’ll find some amazing people sitting across the desk from you. Some will be quiet, and not look at all like what you expected, but you’ll discover something more important ó a great candidate. It’s not about personality and skills. It’s all about motivation and desire.

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Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


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