Building a Winning Business – Only Hire Top Performers

Building-a-Winning-Business-BookMaybe this sounds like a tall order (especially if times are good and great employees are hard to find). Regardless of the business climate, making a commitment to hire only top performers is a strategy worth pursuing. It’s the only way to ensure that you can deliver the best service or product to your customers—and the only way I know to stay competitive, especially in an age of global outsourcing.





If you think you can get by with mediocre employees, you’ll soon see your profit margins eroding, since the only way you’ll be able to compete is to lower prices.

  • It pays to be picky. By this I mean, only hire people you rate a 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale. In my industry, the data state that a top programmer will produce eight times more work than an average or poor performer!
  • Great performers are rarely unemployed or desperate for work. For this reason, it’s important to build a virtual bench of possible candidates who are exceptional at their jobs but who are happy in their current positions. Eventually things may change and they will be interested in finding a new position. Conversely, if a top performer leaves your organization on good terms and later wants to return, don’t hesitate to take him back. This sends a powerful message to everyone about your company being a great place to work.

Tom’s Takeaway:  “Although it takes time and patience on the front end to find and recruit top performers, you’ll get this investment back with hefty dividends over time.”

Thoughts Since the Book

  • Without a doubt, this takeaway–along with daily huddles–are on the short list when people ask me which of the 70 takeaways to first implement.
  • Given a great plan or a great team, eight days a week, I’d choose the latter.  Great people are the difference.

Building a Winning Business – Bias in Hiring


Building A Winning Business — Section: Hiring

To improve your interviews with job candidates, be aware of your own biases and the tendency to make snap judgments. Author Malcolm Gladwell, in his best-selling book Blink, chronicles the human tendency to make huge decisions in the “blink of an eye” based on a person’s appearance, the color of her eyes, or whether he reminds us of someone else.





  • Most of us don’t even realize we make decisions about others based on such shallow “information,” which is why we need systems to override our very human tendency to size someone up unconsciously and subjectively.
  • Here’s a tip for keeping biases in check. Make a note of your initial impressions and then set that aside. Try to keep your mind open as you learn more about the potential candidate and be willing to alter your original impression. Your goal should be to keep your initial impressions from outweighing other evidence about the person gleaned from a rigorous hiring process.

Tom’s Takeaway:  “It’s human nature to size someone up in the ‘blink of an eye,’ but savvy hiring managers consciously set their initial impressions aside and take the time to assess a candidate thoroughly before making a decision.”

Thoughts Since the Book

An in depth, five to 10 step, gated process with many people involved in the interview helps eliminate any one person’s bias.

Today, we also look for bias in the candidate.  A previous candidate was interviewing with one of our teams.  During the interview, he didn’t look at or address a female employee.  Clearly, we chose not proceed with this candidate.

Building a Winning Business – Hiring Process Reference Checking


Building A Winning Business — Section: Hiring

Hiring someone is a highly human interaction. After all, it’s a matter of people coming together and making a decision to spend 40-plus hours a week together for an undefined period of time well into the future. It’s easy to let emotions, especially positive ones, tempt you into skipping your due diligence before offering a job to someone who appears ideal.

Here’s my advice: don’t let this happen to you.

  • No matter how impressive someone appears to be, you should always call his three most recent employers and ask questions that get the real story. Ask, “What did Bill do?” instead of, “Bill said he was a project manager who oversaw 20 employees. Is this true?” Open-ended questions ensure that you will get a more complete and accurate description of the candidate’s past job responsibilities and performance (some companies, however, maintain a strict HR policy of only confirming the dates of employment and the job titles a person had while in their organization).
  •  It also makes sense to get a professional outside assessment of your leading candidates. We spend about $300 per assessment, which provides us with an extensive overview of the candidate’s personality and allows us to decide whether the person will fit with our culture. Sound expensive? Think about the costs (both time and money) involved in a bad hire. Also, candidates are typically hired based on skill and fired because of personality.

Tom’s Takeaway:  “There are three places where you can’t always see someone’s true personality: on a first date, at church, and at a job interview. Increase your odds of hiring someone whose personality, values, and work ethic match your own by thoroughly checking him out before you extend an offer of employment.”

Thoughts Since the Book

A gated, defined hiring process is huge in building a solid organization.  A perennial discussion at Intertech is if our hiring process is too rigorous.  We’ve had candidates opt out because our process because it’s too long or involved.  I have counter thoughts:

  • It shouldn’t be easy to join an elite team.  Think Navy Seals.  The right candidates get this… along with having candidates opt out of our process, I’ve heard now employees state, “I knew this was a place for me when I saw how hard it was to make it through the hiring process.”
  • If we’re going to spend 1,000’s of hours working together, doesn’t it make sense to spend about 20 hours on the front end to ensure it’s a fit for both sides?

19 Ways to Get a Promotion



Over the past few years, I’ve been asked by a friend, family member or business associate, to meet with their kid or friend who’s looking to land a job or get a promotion.  Below are my 19 tips:

  1. Do what you say. Finish what you start. Be on time. Say please and thank you. Be friendly. Smile. While a lot more is needed to have success in a job, it’s rare to consistently miss one of these and zoom your way to the top.
  2. Over perform. It’s said that a person behaves as though they’re in the position above them before they get the promotion. If you’re not sure of the job standard or what’s expected, ask.
  3. Proactively help. There are a lot of moving parts in an organization. Those that step up and create solutions for problems without being asked, get noticed.
  4. When help’s requested, do so. When opportunities arise to help on something outside of your current role, do it.
  5. Put the firm first. When it comes to decisions that could “go either way” – in favor of you or in favor of the firm – err on the side of the firm. If you’re in a responsible organization and they see you doing this, they’ll probably offer up what you wanted in the end. Don’t work the edges, live in the grey area, or shirk responsibilities.
  6. Care. When it comes to events in the lives of your co-workers or team members, show interest. If they’re having issues, demonstrate your care and offer support and help. Be there for the big events. The former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, said, in response to attending events of his employees “Weddings are optional. Funerals are mandatory.”
  7. Promote your firm. This ranges from saying good things about your firm up to speaking or writing on behalf of your firm.
  8. When navigating your firm, if you need cooperation on something, ask for support before you go public. People want to follow thru on commitments. In 1987, a social scientist named Anthony Greenwald asked voters on election-day eve if they’d vote. 100% said yes. On election day, 86.7% of those asked went to the polls compared to 61.5% of those in the “control group” who were not asked.
  9. Get people to like you. While some say this doesn’t matter. It does. Author and social scientist Robert Cialdini, said, “People prefer to say ‘yes’ to those they know and like,” People are also more likely to favor those who are similar to themselves or give them compliments. In 2005, Randy Garner mailed out surveys to strangers with a request to return them. The request was signed by a person whose name was either similar or dissimilar to the recipient’s. For example, Robert James might receive a survey request from the similarly-named Bob Ames. According to a study reported in Yes!, “Those who received the survey from someone with a similar-sounding name were nearly twice as likely to fill out and return the packet as those who received the surveys from dissimilar sounding names (56% compared to 30%).”
  10. If you want to be in leadership, know the basics of what leadership means. Dale Carnegie does a great job making this tangible. According to Carnegie, leaders:
  • Define a vision
  • Build understanding of the vision throughout the team
  • Create strategies and work plans to accomplish the vision
  • Align the goals of individuals to execute the strategies and work plans
  • Delegate and define performance standards
  • Hold team members accountable to standards
  • Plan
  • Communicate
  • Praise team members
  • Gain cooperation
  • Solve problems
  • Take sensible risks
  • Help grow the skills of team members
  • Celebrate success
  1. Author Jim Collins shared that great leaders “Look in a mirror when there’s a problem and look out a window when there’s success.” Give praise. Congratulate and thank in writing. When someone’s had success, ask them how they did it. They can relive their glory for a few minutes.
  2. Shoot for a career not a job. Know your business, your industry, and your profession. When it comes to your firm, know the stock price, leadership changes, new products, and news. When it comes to your industry and profession, read, understand trends, stay current.
  3. Act the way you want others to act. Attitudes are contagious. People cannot control your emotions – only you can. If you are upset and not sure if you should say something – don’t. Rarely will people think you acted unprofessionally if you say little or nothing. Don’t accept a “gift” of anger. In line with controlling your emotions, don’t respond in kind when someone is angry. By not accepting their gift of anger – it remains with them.
  4. Think and speak solutions. If the focus is on me, my hurt feelings, what happened in the past, gossip etc., time ticks away as laundry lists of bad feelings build and emotions boil. Meanwhile, the solution is still waiting to be discovered. Engage in direct communication. Venting to a third party doesn’t change any situation and can disrupt office harmony. Address concerns, criticisms and wants to the appropriate members (those who have the power to make changes to policy or guidelines) of the company. Use I statements. I statements make our thoughts clear to our listeners. You statements imply blame. Don’t take it upon yourself to represent the concerns of coworkers. Each employee is responsible for stating his/her own concerns and suggestions.
  5. Lead up… When you bring your manager a question or a problem, bring along a few possible solutions. Be ready to tell your manager which solution you think is best and why. Don’t use the manager’s time to think through the problem if this is something you could do beforehand. Prepare your manager for bad news early. This allows your manager time to help you, defend you, or prepare other parties for what is to come. Take blame. This shows your character in the fires of a crisis. Skip the sackcloth, ashes and flogging. Once you’ve owned and defined the problem, cut to the quick in finding a solution.
  6. If issues arise, seek to understand before you seek to be understood.
  7. Act with character, be committed and divide and conquer. Adversity tests character and shows others how we are “wired” at our core. Our leadership and the customer will reward and remember behaving with character and being committed to solving the customer’s problem. “I don’t know” is okay, especially when teamed with “I’ll find out.” This is much safer than bluffing. It shows you are honest and you are not panicking in the face of a challenge. If you follow up with an answer quickly, it shows you are responsive.
  8. Know how we’re wired as people. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” isn’t correct. Customers remember the finish of the service engagement more than the start. Finish strong. If you have bad news, give a choice. Giving a choice, even if it’s between two bad scenarios, makes them feel like they have some control. Having control in a situation creates less stress. Extend Wins, Cut Losses. In a study, participants were given a choice. They could win $5 twice or win $10 once. They choice to win $5 twice. In this same study, participants were given a choice to lose $5 twice or lose $10 once. They chose to lose $10 once. When dealing with customers, give them multiple reasons to be happy. If you have bad news, it’s better to unveil it all at once.
  9. Negotiate well…. more successful negotiations occur over lunch, dinner and in the hallway after hours than occur at a conference table with one side pitted against another. Reaching agreement requires trust. Trust doesn’t get built without work and understanding. Invest in the relationship and get to know the person with whom you will be working.

Intertech Is Named One of the 100 Best Companies to Work For in Minnesota

IminnesotabusinessV2_logontertech was named one of the 100 best companies to work for in Minnesota by Minnesota Business magazine.  My thanks to our employees and customers for making us and this distinction possible.  On June 5th there will be an awards ceremony at Saint Paul RiverCentre where the rankings and winners will be announced.

In 2012, Minnesota Business magazine named Intertech the #1 mid-sized employer in the state.