As a part of our talent acquisition engagements, we ask our clients how they define “top talent” and how they would assess those traits in the interview process. Reflecting on the insightful comments we hear every day, we thought there would be great value in a new blog in which senior executives/thought leaders share their “Take on Talent.”
This is the twenty-sixth in a series of blogs/interviews with senior executives who are thought leaders in the areas of Talent Acquisition, Career Development and Leadership who will share their perspectives on this ever present question.
Esteban Herrera is the Senior Vice President and Head of B&PS Atos|Syntel North America. He is responsible for managing the $1+Billion Applications and Platforms business in North America. The organization is the fusion of Atos’ applications portfolio and the Syntel acquisition. He leads a rich portfolio of applications and platforms solutions through a variety of sales, marketing, delivery and operations functions to create secure, de-carbonized digital value for his North American clients. He is a member of the Atos North America Executive Committee. He also leads Atos|Syntel’s global Public Sector and Defense business unit.
Please share with us the top five characteristics (in priority order, first to fifth) of the most talented people you have encountered during your career, and your definition of each.
Empathy. I was taught that business isn’t about making friends, it’s about making money. As I have grown older and wiser, I’ve changed. Life is too short to spend it with jerks. Furthermore, unpleasant people weigh down the team. They tend to use fear and authority over understanding and analysis. I am happier when I work with pleasant people. I know that when I am happier, I deliver better results. This doesn’t mean rolling over anytime there is a disagreement. Differences of opinion are healthy and necessary. Empathetic people take those differences and make better decisions. They make the best leaders, because they know what makes each person tick. That knowledge helps maximize their contribution. They serve clients the best, because empaths understand why they behave how they do. They make the best colleagues, because collaboration is natural to them. Empaths are great with feedback, because they absorb the human context.
Competence at learning. Once you have the basic human behaviors down, then you need to be good at what you do. In the best of cases, talent finds a way to learn something all the time. This is a skill that takes practice! Curiosity is a prerequisite. But that means nothing unless you have techniques to turn questions into new answers. This trait is rare because it combines the curious mind of an artist with the structured approach of an engineer. I sometimes call them the “journalists” of the business world. They ask the hard questions, and then follow a path to get at the facts to make better decisions.
Passion. Another “soft” skill that is anything but soft! Passionate people love what they do and are forceful in their actions. They act with conviction but value getting it right over everything else. Their commitment to winning the right way usually shows up in the first conversation. It is one of the easier characteristics to identify. Passion cannot be faked or contained!
Commitment. Discipline to get things done is priceless. Realism about what you can do is critical to success. Commitment is about doing what you say you will do, and never agreeing to something you can’t. Defined this way, it is the rarest characteristic in the environments I work in. Managers push to get more done. Employees want to please their leaders. Deadlines get missed, careers get tanked. Leaders should push to the line of what can get done—no further. Commitment is as much about locking on to the task like a dog on a bone as it is about picking the right size bone.
Personal Transparency. “This project is so important to me; I don’t think I can help micromanaging it.” “I have no idea how to do this.” “I can’t get ‘Johnny’ on my team to do any real work.” “I am not cut out to look at spreadsheets all day.” “I have too much emotion about this decision.” “You may not know I have a deep personal curiosity about Big Data.” These are all real statements that people I work with have made. And they are a gift. They combine self-awareness with communication. I call this personal transparency. People who acknowledge their passion, strengths, limitations, blind spots are invaluable to me. I may not always be able to redirect the assignment they dread. I may not even want to, to develop them. But I am not flying blind. They’ve been forthcoming telling me they need extra help or motivation; or that they welcome a certain responsibility. They’ve shared accountability with me as a leader, appropriately. Organizations work better the more personal transparency there is.
How do you communicate these characteristics to your HR and senior management team?
Easy. I tell them to find me passionate, highly committed, eager-to-learn, transparent, self-aware empaths! In all seriousness, there is nobody who has perfected all five. We look for a balance. We look for people who are strong in a few, and not total train-wrecks in the others. I tend to conduct both the first and the last interview with senior hires to gauge their growth through the process. Have they understood our goals and objectives better? Did they get and accept coaching along the way? Like me, our leadership needs to focus on delivering results. But that makes us no different from 99.5% of every other organization out there. With clients, there is no issue we cannot solve if we maintain a strong relationship. If we respect each other as humans, and value the ability to speak about things, good and bad, that happen, then we can solve any problem. I look for my leadership team to extend that as a core value of the organization. If we can do it with our clients, we can do it among ourselves.
How do you handle challenges to the existing culture by talent you have brought in?
It depends on context. Am I leading a turnaround? Has the organization been struggling? Then I want to embrace challenges to culture. Are we operating a sophisticated, well-oiled machine? Then any challenges to culture should be carefully tested (remember, empathy!). In this case, you have the luxury of time, because the results are there. You can experiment safely. You don’t upset an apple cart that is traveling reliably at warp speed!
Culture isn’t something you ever stop working on, regardless of the path the company is on. In our industry, it is the most reliable differentiator—sometimes the only one! So, like any competitive advantage, you must keep it healthy, current, and visible!