We all realize that good people are at the heart of every successful professional services firm. And, of course, every firm feels that they have unusually talented staff. One is reminded of Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Woebegone where ”all the children are above average.”

But all kidding aside, it is an important issue that must be addressed. How do you find the best people and allow them to do their best work?

As a psychologist and entrepreneur with a focus on high growth professional services firms, I've been interested in this topic for many years. Here are a few key principles that seem to work best.

Getting the Best People

  • Have a clear strategy and focus for your firm. This will inform the decision about who is “best.” A potential hire can be a great fit for one focus but ill-suited to another.
  • Be open and clear about your strategy and culture. This will help people self select. Talking someone into joining your firm seldom works out. Don’t pretend to be something you are not.
  • Focus on hiring for talent, not skills and experience. They are not the same. In the long run talent always outperforms experience. If you are lucky enough to find both it’s an easy choice.
  • Use a systematic multi-step hiring process with multiple rounds of interviews and visits. Include peer interviews and be very sensitive to cultural fit.
  • Try before you buy if possible. Short term projects or internships are great ways to avoid mistakes.
  • Always be recruiting.

Help Them Do Their Best Work

  • Keep refining the position until there is a good fit between talents, interest and roles. As you get to know the person you can better tailor a set of responsibilities.
  • Have high expectations and concrete public goals. Most will rise to the challenge.
  • Support them as people. Recognize them as individuals and be as flexible as possible. Most will reciprocate with loyalty and commitment.
  • Encourage communication and involvement in decisions, goal setting and developing processes.
  • Don’t hesitate to let someone go if they are not performing up to the standard of the group. Others will appreciate it more than you imagine.

Now I don’t want to give the impression that executing on these principles is easy. Sometimes the right course of action is far from obvious. But the principles do work. When we follow them, we get good people who perform well. When there is an issue, I can usually trace it back to ignoring one of the principles. Have I missed anything that works for you?