Want To Hire The Best? Check Out This Rockstar Formula

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Want To Hire The Best? Check Out This Rockstar Formula

It was 6:00 am. I was just sitting down with a fresh coffee to get an early start on the day at Ariba, and my phone rang. Again. I knew who it would be—Tina. This would be the fourth time she was calling to tell me how much she wanted to come work with us. Tina seemed super sharp. Motivated. She had a BA from Harvard, where she was also varsity cross country and track & field. And she had a Masters from Stanford. But she was right out of school and had little tech experience. Still, here she was, calling me, the company CEO, at 6:00 am. She was DETERMINED. Finally I told her, in fun, “If you’d only stop calling me, I’d give you a job.” And she showed up the next day.

The company with the best people wins. But there’s a big difference between knowing that and actually hiring and developing the best people. I’ve often said you’ve got to hire people who are “smarter than you.” This is absolutely true (and not that hard to do in my case), but I’ve found one of the worst things you can do is to allow yourself to focus so much on skills and smarts that you lose sight of the character traits that are much more important predictors of success.

The Three Factors

When I set out to hire really great people, I always look to get the best in three key areas: First, you need high IQ—intelligence quotient. We all know what that is. And I include skills in the “IQ bucket.” Second, you need people with high EQ—emotional quotient—people who are self-aware and have good people skills. These aren’t just people who can “get along” with others. They’re people who work well with others. That can mean challenging each other to do your best as well as being empathetic, listening and understanding. Third, and most important, you need people with high AQ—adversity quotient. As the name implies, these are people who aren’t defeated by adversity. They can “take a licking and keep on ticking.” They’re the ones who are good at turning bags of sour lemons into sweet lemonade.

Public domain photo – Pixabay

The Most Important One

The importance of being able to handle adversity can’t be underestimated. Because one thing you can count on in business, and in life, is adversity—obstacles. You know they’re out there. They’re going to come up left and right. You won’t know where or when. So everyone on your team needs to be a star at overcoming them. Your high-performance team needs to be able to do whatever it takes to get the ball over those last two yards and across the goal line. Those are the hardest two yards on the field. That grit, determination and perseverance are what you’re looking for.

The Rockstar Formula  = AQ (IQ+EQ)

One way to understand the relative importance of AQ is to look at what I call the Rockstar Formula:   Rockstar = AQ (IQ+EQ).   What it means is that AQ multiplies the value of the other qualities you’re looking for in a candidate. No matter how high your IQ or how strong your EQ, it’s your AQ that affects your drive and motivation. In extensive surveys, more than 98% of employers say they would rather hire individuals with high resilience (AQ), even if they are missing some important skills, than hire employees with perfect skill sets, but weak resilience. High IQ and EQ with a strong AQ multiplier gets you a real rockstar.

I didn’t make up the concept of AQ, (although I wish I had). The term Adversity Quotient was coined by Dr. Paul Stoltz in his book Adversity Quotient: Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities. And the AQ concept has been widely recognized for its value and adopted by savvy leaders. The Harvard Business School uses AQ theory and methods in its executive development and MBA programs, and many leading businesses, including the four companies I’ve helped build, always use this to recruit and train staff who are able to overcome obstacles and thrive in challenging environments.

To scientifically measure AQ, Stoltz developed a test called the Adversity Response Profile (ARP). You can check it out on Dr. Stoltz’s website. You could even build it into your interview process. But if you’re familiar with the Adversity Quotient and the traits it’s designed to reveal, you can identify individuals with high AQ without necessarily using the formal test.  

Climbers, Campers and Quitters

In his Adversity Quotient book, Stoltz describes three types of personalities: Climbers, Campers and Quitters.

Climbers… Campers… Quitters

Public domain photos – Pixabay

Quitters don’t have a lot of drive or ambition. They’re not big risk takers, and they tend to avoid challenges. Stoltz calls them the “dead weight of any organization.”

Campers have decided it’s time to stay put. They either don’t like challenges or have gotten tired of them. They’re looking for a comfortable place to settle down. They’ll put in enough effort to maintain the status quo, but not much more. They’re “OK.” Average. According to Stoltz, 90% of today’s workers are Campers. But they don’t belong on your team.

If you’re looking to build a high-performance team, so your organization can win in a tough competitive environment, you’re looking for the third category of performers—the Climbers. According to Dr. Stoltz, who happens to be an avid mountain climber, Climbers are people who never stop learning and growing. They are relentless in their pursuit of their goals. They inspire others to see their full potential. They have purpose and passion in what they do regardless of their job or place in life.

Passion for Building

There’s another important characteristic of climbers: they have a passion for building. Whether it’s a product, an organization, a distribution channel, or a new game-changing category—they love to build. They’re eager to challenge the status quo. You’re looking for people who embrace change. And most important, you’re looking for people who are unstoppable.

“Unstoppable” is certainly the word that comes to mind when I think of Tina. She had little industry experience, but with her determination, I thought she could really dig in and succeed in customer support. And it was a great place to learn. After she learned our product, she started doing implementations. First she worked under a project manager, then she became the project manager. Then she was leading all the PMs. It’s funny—in a fast-growing startup, there are always new challenges to take on. And the first question you always ask about any new initiative is not “What are we going to do?” it’s “Who can take this on?” At Ariba, it seemed like Tina’s name came up every time.

So how can you find people with strong AQ?

The good news is that you’ve already taken the most important step, which is to understand what AQ is, and put it on your list of critical things to look for. Here are four practical tips on how and where you can find it:

  1. I believe personal networks are the number one way to recruit great talent. You know who your top IQ/EQ/AQ people are. Who do they know who they can say, from personal experience, has the smarts, the emotional intelligence and the grit it takes to make a major contribution to your team? Just remember to think and ask about AQ—the perseverance it takes to overcome obstacles.
  2. Look for indicators of strong AQ on their resume and their activity online. Have they accomplished something in their career or personal life that took real perseverance? Are they driven to be the best at something even when it takes real sacrifice? There are a lot of ways that an ability to overcome adversity can express itself, and they’re not always about work. Athletic achievement. Music. Performance. Even overcoming physical disabilities. These can all offer clues about an individual’s AQ. Next time you look at a resume, don’t just look for skills. Look for AQ clues.
  3. Ask your candidates to tell some stories about themselves. You don’t want to give the impression that your organization is one where people are always struggling, but during the interview, ask your candidate how they felt when they faced adversity in their lives. Did they get frustrated? Discouraged? Angry? Did they think they were a victim, or did they take control of the situation? Ask them to describe a time when they faced adversity in the past. Ask them to tell about how they reacted and what actions they took. Did they eventually prevail? How?
  4. Get hypothetical. You might consider posing a few questions like, “Let’s say you’ve been working on a really big project—it’s consumed all your time and energy for the last six months. But when it comes time to implement your plan, the budget is cut. How do you feel? What do you do?”

Digging for AQ clues in this way can help you expand your thinking beyond whether candidates have the skills you’re looking for. The skills are important. But by looking for those rockstars that combine high AQ, EQ, and IQ, you’ll be able to build a high-performance team that can win every time. And never forget, mindset trumps skill set every time.

Here’s a great introduction to the concept of AQ from Dr. Paul Stoltz.