Getting to “Best Boss” Status: An excerpt from David Lahey’s “From Hire to Inspire”

By Thomas MacIntosh  |  

8.2 min read

The following is an excerpt from David Lahey’s new management book, “From Hire to Inspire: How to become the best boss.” To purchase a copy of the book, click here.


any of us will finish our lives having worked for 90,000 hours — a third of our turn on this planet. More alarming: many of us will spend those working hours at jobs we hate under the super- vision of bosses whose power to inspire is lacking. What a shame. We work in order to buy things and enjoy experiences and fill our lives with pleasure and comfort. Such aspirations are crit- ical to creating a better existence for those who aspire to live in North America. Having a job you love and a boss you like is key to making this 90,000-hour investment a fruitful one. My life has included lots of fruit. In fact, I had one job, as an enterprise manager at Microsoft, that was such a thrill that I never knew when quitting time was, seldom watched for long weekends and was quoted as saying I would “take two bullets” for my boss. This was nirvana: a job that suited my personality and a boss — Randy Lenaghan — who allowed me to just do it. Randy was a mindful boss, aware of the buttons to push with his employees, a “Chief Talent Optimizer” of talent of his team. Pure joy.

Connecting Business Strategy to Business Results

Randy understood that well-run business units and companies have a business strategy that’s linked to an expectation of nomi- nated business results. He knew what we all need to know: that to be successful, companies need to acknowledge that people are at their heart, and that leaders need to understand the piece about aligning them with a business strategy. This is the journey to Talent Optimization, and everyone should take it: www.

A business can create key success criteria, but at the end of the fiscal year, the determination of success relies on whether the people in the business performed. The most successful compa- nies are the ones that were able to put the best people in the right positions.

Rewinding back to the beginning of the fiscal year, that same business will have set out to develop a strategic plan that can set them up for these successes. The sweet spot, then, is in that region between the business strategy and the business results. How do companies ensure they are setting themselves up for success?

Talent optimization is a four-part discipline that gives compa- nies the ability to diagnose their business, design their strategy, hire the right fits for jobs, and inspire these individuals to stay and grow with the company.

People must be aligned with the business strategy in order for the company to achieve its goals by year end.

Talent optimization isn’t about developing a new busi- ness strategy. We like the way the Boston software firm, The Predictive Index LLC, has laid it out below. What gets in the way of a leader’s business results is its lacking of three essentials: a proper diagnosis for job models, an appreciation for hiring with purpose and the best possible data to inspire your employees to crush the business results. The people section often gets ignored and this hampers leaders and business units’ chances of beating their numbers.

The world today — awash in jobs but without enough people to fill them — is in an envious spot. Or at least it might seem that way at first blush. In point of fact, the scene is a frustrating one for managers, whose ongoing pursuit of players sees them in constant hiring mode, forever chasing workers willing to hang around long enough to make all the effort worthwhile.

Here’s where the concept of talent optimization earns its stripes as a game changer.

Talent optimization is the link between a company’s business strategy — higher quotas, increased sales, more good done, less pain caused, fewer risks taken — and the end result it seeks, say, twelve months later — lower risks, fewer accidents, decreased operational costs, higher revenues. It is the magic in the middle of these points and it begins with taking an intentional and data- driven approach to getting the people part right.

As a business leader, it’s your job to ensure that your company puts your talent into an optimal position for producing desired business results and besting the competition. Talent optimization is the relatively new term that exploits the relatively old considerations of people, process and technology and uncovers the connection between business strategy and its results. It’s a different way to understand how people fit into a broader busi- ness plan and to optimize output and productivity to achieve impressive results. In this bridge between strategy and outcome, this process facilitates designing jobs with purpose and then hiring for them in an agreed-upon and — because your managers are helping you create the models — consistent way.

Talent optimization also protects against employee disengagement, the scourge of the productive office. This widespread issue (by some measures, more than 70 percent of US employees are disengaged), whose hallmarks are poor productivity, absenteeism, poor client service and toxic workplace cultures, deprives organizations of billions of dollars.

At a certain point, every manager needs to appreciate that there’s a better approach to staffing their ranks than what they’ve done up to now, that they can’t just keep hiring this person and that, posting jobs on indeed, giving somebody’s golf buddy or squash pal a try. On the one side of the equation, there’s no question that managers have bias. And on the other, there’s no question that jobs still need to be filled according to skills and will. So what’s missing? The proper job models. An analytic process that’s predictive and prescriptive and that maps jobs for the best chances of success. And a way to design them so they’re mindful of external pressures, like having to hire someone by year end to get a bonus. Indeed, these are the things most likely to make a boss steamroll over whatever model they had in place, just to jump from business strategy to results and skip the middle parts. It’s one of the things I see that frustrates me the most.

It’s worth noting, too, that people in HR (for the most part) have not been professionally trained to undertake these tasks. Human resource professionals have non-analytical back- grounds, and don’t understand the finer points of job models. Sure, if you go into a lean Six Sigma company, they know how to do this, they have specialists who understand the details. But it’s too expensive for most companies to hire a chief analytic officer, though that’s a trend we’re seeing among Fortune 500.

So talent optimization means we yoga breath this and we say: Let’s design a job that maps to where we want to go as an organization. This applies to for profit and social profit organization. Where we want our sales to be, our finance, our costs, etc. Let’s use an analytic approach also to look at our top performers, to the inside success people experience to the job model of their purported role, almost like a sound check. And then let’s hire to that model so we can diagnose misfits, so we can high- five good selections.

Most businesses have some kind of business strategy. Those companies without a strategy most often fade away or are not serious in their mission. Often this strategy all too often reads out in technical or functional terms, and the people part is missing or disconnected. Talent optimization provides context that will inform an analytic approach that offers up diagnosed data on how to coach, onboard and mentor individuals — and all from their world, not the one the boss lives in. Importantly, talent optimization does not advocate the creation of a new busi- ness strategy. It’s about translating your specific, documented and actionable existing one into sought-after business results through a human lens.

When companies are examining this concept, they’ll often start with zero — we call it level zero: no objective data to hire. Here is the age-old practice of hiring by gut, our golden gut. But as Robert Frost famously warned, nothing gold can stay. There’s no formal engagement survey with this approach, there’s no performance, no analytics. It’s simply: I like you, so I’ll hire you. That’s not enough. You need to measure what matters, analyze the evidence and prescribe actions to improve things. Anything else is just spinning your wheels.

To purchase a copy of the book, click here.

Who This Book Is Intended For

We wrote this book to help business executives understand when and how create a Talent Optimization strategy to help them to achieve their company’s business goals. We also want to provide support for the managers charged with implementing that strategy in their day-to-day work on how to ace the “boss/leader” employee part of running a team or a  project.

All rights reserved. This excerpt was used here with consent from the author. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any process — electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise — without the prior written permission of the copyright owners and ECW Press. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

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