Eagle Talk

Creating Teams is an Art

Dear Friends,

With our great pleasure, this issue of Eagle Talk has been written by an outstanding leader and a client of many years, Elizabeth Dillon.  I believe you will find what she has to say focuses on all that I believe is key in communication and leadership excellence.

— Bob

Elizabeth Dillon
Elizabeth Dillon

Liz Dillon is Head of the Global Financial Institutions sales team at Pictet Asset Management. She joined the firm in 2002, initially as a Senior Marketing Manager in Geneva. Now based in London, Liz has been responsible for building Pictet Asset Management’s distribution business with top-tier financial institutions based in the UK and/or North America since 2004.  Prior to joining Pictet, Liz was a Vice President with JP Morgan Private Bank and served as Head of Sales Support in New York from 1996 to 2002. As a senior member of the Marketing Management team, she managed staff both in Europe and in the US. Before JP Morgan, Liz spent three years in the investment banking division of Merrill Lynch.  Liz holds a BA from the University of New York, College at Brockport.

You don’t stand a chance of scoring goals without a great team, and putting one together is an art.

Today, I manage a team of six, the best team I have managed in my twenty years in Finance. It’s tremendously satisfying, but the road to getting here had many bumps along the way. The truth is, when I hire someone, I either get it right…or I get it colossally wrong. Getting it right has more to do with luck than anyone would like to admit. Talking about how to get it right doesn’t seem to work for me, as well as talking about how best NOT to get it completely wrong. When it comes to hiring people today, my past mistakes guide me.

I am a person who is passionate about getting things done. This is how I derive my sense of self-esteem. My “To Do” list is my map. I actually call it my “Things to Do or Die!” list. I walk around with it all day. It is with me at every meeting. I review it before I pick up the FT over coffee. It comes to lunch with me. It is by my side at every moment and it only gets to rest when I leave the office. I love this list… I am obsessed with it… and the joy when I cross something off… hooray!  Victory!

While this method works very well for me on many levels, it is the worst mentality to have when looking to hire someone.  Interviews are taxing for someone with a hectic schedule. They can be also terribly dull and awkward.  For someone who loves meeting and interacting with people, I must admit I do not relish doing interviews. I want to be doing things with people who already know how we work. I want to be in the action and accomplishing.  Basically, I don’t have time to explain to someone who we are, how we work, our ambitions.  I have things to do with people who know this stuff already!  Knowing this about me helps a lot. Slow it down, take time… this is a human being… this is not a ‘To Do’ on a list:  “Hire amazing person, CHECK.” 

Tip 1: Take your time.

About a year ago, my boss was in an interviewing marathon.  He was meeting two to three people a day over a couple of weeks.  I sympathized with him that it must be dreadful. While he agreed it wasn’t the most fun, he also said, “I remind myself before I go in to the interview, I will learn something new in this next hour.”  He is absolutely correct.  He helped me see that indeed I am accomplishing something after all – a new insight, a different perspective, perhaps how the competition thinks about things, how different organizations organize themselves, a potential lead, an idea.  You name it, there is something to gain from these interactions.  If you didn’t gain anything from your time with the person, chances are, this is not the person to employ. 

Tip 2: Go into the interview prepared to learn.

I have hired some completely unsuitable people, even when I have taken my time.  I would bet that for any manager who has ever had to fire someone they hired, they actually knew at the beginning this person had a trait that would be unsustainable in the end.  How could you know this and still proceed ahead?  I call it denying the “Ick.”

In your interactions with potential new hires, you must develop an acute sense of the Ick and you should heed its warnings.  Whatever this Ick may be, it will only intensify when they join you.  Do they repeat themselves a lot? Do they demonstrate they have not really heard you? Are they a little bit too boastful?  Are they simply mirroring what you say to them? Whatever it may be, this will only amplify, and it will hit you on the head like a lead balloon the very day they join.  And it will only get worse.  Do not kid yourself these traits will improve or disappear. Do not try to talk yourself into thinking it is your issue and not theirs.  Do not assume you can change them. So often, I see attitudes in people that I do not like, and I assume it’s my problem instead of theirs.  Do not hire problems, even if the person demonstrates excellence in other areas.

Tip 3: Listen to and respect the Ick. 

I have worked at a few organizations and I know the torture these organizations can put candidates through.  In a past firm, I myself had eighteen interviews.  But I am guilty too.  I put a candidate through sixteen interviews not so long ago (we repeat what we know).  I have now seen the light.  How many people should a candidate meet? I would say somewhere around seven.  And the bulk of these people should be part of the direct team. That is where this person will spend the majority of their time.  Getting it right for the team is paramount. But you should also get an opinion from someone outside the team who knows the team, whose judgement you respect and who doesn’t have a vested interest in making a hire. They might see something that we don’t.

I would argue that fewer people to meet and more engagement with this smaller set of people is the way to do it.  Pick two to three people who will meet this person a few times, instead of just once. There are some masterful people out there that can impress a large number of people with superficial first meetings. You need to dig deeper.

A client of mine once told me that he won’t hire someone unless he has ‘broken bread’ with the candidate.  He said, “If they bore me at dinner, they will bore my clients.  If they are rude to the waiter, they will be rude to colleagues.  If they have bad table manners or eat with their mouth open….”  You see where I am going with this?

Tip 4: Fewer people, more contact and break bread.

So, you make the offer, hurrah!  Now is the critical time. This is not the time for ‘high-five’s’ and ‘job done’.  This is the moment of truth.  This is where the candidate goes from trying to be perfect to being real.  In some cases very real.  Watch the behaviour of the chosen one very carefully.  How they negotiate will tell you a lot.  Do they negotiate?  If not, maybe that is perfectly acceptable, or maybe that is a sign they won’t do it for your firm down the road.  It depends on the role they’re filling in this case.  Do they make too many special requests?  Are they overly dramatic?  Do they tell you too much information about their lives?  Do they take up too much of your time?  

I had an offer out to a candidate and he actually called me on a Saturday afternoon (knowing I was out at a birthday lunch with friends) to explain that he had a chipped tooth and wanted to understand our dental insurance plan.  He was also seeking my advice whether or not he should go see a dentist.  This was one of many calls I had taken from him having something to do with making his problem, mine.   In hindsight, I should have rescinded the offer.  Why didn’t I do that?  Likely, I felt I had already invested so much time and energy in this person, and I was too reluctant to start the process from scratch.  Again, I hire today by holding close to me the examples of how I should have known better.   The time and anguish that could have been saved for everyone involved is, in retrospect, enormous in contrast to facing the reality of who this person was showing himself to be.

Tip 5: Be prepared to walk away.

I have to admit that my “art” of team building is more a collage than an oil painting – it’s an assemblage of bits & pieces I’ve picked up over the years.  But I don’t want it hanging in a museum.  My goal is to do the best job that I can, for my clients, my firm and my team.

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