Yesterday I spent the day at the London Web Summit, listening to many successful entrepreneurs tell their stories and provide advice. Mike Lynch, who recently sold Autonomy for £10bn, made a point that I have always agreed with very strongly – “the true asset of a software company is its team”. I’ve always believed that finding the perfect team was the most important part of setting up and running a business, and not just in the software industry but in all others too. But doing that is not something you can simply learn from a book – it’s an art, one that you pick up and improve at over many years of experience.
The internet is awash with articles about how you absolutely must pick “A-players” for your team. The theory goes that A-players only like to work with other A-players, whether this is on a sports team, or in a company. If they feel that some people aren’t pulling their weight, they get discouraged because it dilutes their own performance, and in the end they end up not performing as well as they can, and ultimately leaving.
This is valid – I’ve experienced it before. The greatest thing about working with people who are better than you is that they set a bar, and you feel compelled to reach it. If they manage 9 efficient hours a day without breaking a sweat, you end up feeling this is what should be your own standard too. If they come up with great out of the box ideas instead of mindlessly ploughing on, then you end up being more creative as well. As long as you have the right attitude and willingness to learn, then being on a team of A-players will make you one too.
What many other authors seem to ignore though, is that it is no longer enough to just find the perfect people. The process doesn’t end when you’ve found them, and they have signed an employment contract. That is only the first step, and since we are trying to build companies that will scale and become long-lasting, there is a whole journey that follows.
We live in, what has now been termed, a world of flux. The steady forty year career is no longer a reasonable life choice. With the arrival of blogging sites and professional social networks, the concept of a personal brand went from being only relevant to American life coaches, to being a requirement for every ambitious individual. Our blogs, our websites, our LinkedIn profiles and our Twitter accounts all represent who we are and what we want to be, and every A-player will be aware of this and be leveraging it to further open up the range of opportunities that present themselves.
An employer has two options – they can hope that their employees will not realise the power of the personal brand, and hence be more likely to remain in the same position for a long period of time, but if they do then they will almost certainly fill their team with people who are not living at the cutting edge of understanding of today’s world. The other option is to welcome their employees’ personal brands with open arms, to help them to develop it, and to be completely conscious of the fact that at all decision points, they will be making the choice that serves them best at that time.
An employment contract is not a marriage anymore – from the very start, it is the employer’s, the manager’s, or the CEO’s responsibility to understand that their company or team will be in a state of flux. A-players will merge in, add some phenomenal value, and then merge out as they move on to their next opportunity. This continual change is now part of life, both for any individual, and for any company as well. The team is not a constant, it is a variable – it gets bigger and smaller, it gets marginally better and worse, and all we can do is add as much value as we can to the individuals that form part of it, knowing that they will reciprocate both during their involvement in the team, and in the years to come.
Where once the key skill used to be picking the best people to employ, the primary skillset has now changed. A true leader will know the importance of helping his team reach their own individual goals. They will know to ensure that their company provides the best learning opportunity and the best cultural environment for each individual member, so that when the next opportunity presents itself, and that person makes a decision which is both rational and individual, they will choose to remain part of the team, and they will do it because it is the best.