Alexander F. Bouri has great respect for higher education, but like many business leaders he also understands there are some things you can’t learn at school. Here are three crucial business lessons Bouri learned only through vital, real world experience.
1. How to fail – No business person will ever forget the first time that they fail. The first collapsed deal, the first downsize, the first next-big-thing that totally falls flat—or even the first time they have to shutter a company. This kind of experience can be shattering, but it also teaches vital lessons about how to guide an idea or a company through the low points, how to get back up and push on and, most importantly, how great a responsibility you have to your staff to fight for them and for the company’s future. Of course, it is possible to fail in school, but getting a bad grade on a paper doesn’t carry the same monumental, existential punch as watching a product or business fail.
2. How to trust your instincts – This is a lesson that some business people take decades to figure out, only to wish they had learned it sooner. In this age of science and data, it can be hard to swallow the idea of trusting your “instincts”—after all, what are instincts, anyway? But the truth is that your instincts are the sum total of all your business, social, and work experience, nudging you in the right direction (or away from the wrong one) at every turn. You may not know why you don’t trust a particular funder, or a certain supplier, but if your gut is telling you to walk there’s a good chance you picked up on some small but very real cue that they don’t have your best intentions at heart. School can teach you a lot of useful information and, in many ways it prepares you well for the business world. But once you’re out there facing real competition, your instincts will be invaluable.
3. How to inspire your staff – Business management classes work best for the big picture stuff: how to choose a mission statement, how to cover your liability, how to structure a company. Creating a culture and earning your staff’s respect takes something more, however. It means being the kind of leader who has an idea and working at least as hard in pursuit of that idea as you ask any of them to do—in ways they can see and appreciate. In other words, being the kind of leader who inspires. And the way you learn that is by rolling up your sleeves and treating your staff members as your teachers.
What lessons did you learn from real world experience?
There’s nothing worse than hiring what you think is a great new staff member only to find out that they don’t work hard or can’t cooperate with team members. Successful cement industry businessman Alexander F. Bouri has seen this happen too many times, but also noticed that it happened a lot less when he changed his hiring practices. Here are his three steps for hiring the right person every time.
No arbitrary criteria
These days, it’s not uncommon for a hiring manager to end up with a stack of 40, 50 or 100 resumés or more. At that point, it’s not practical to carefully consider each one, and you have to narrow down the stack somehow. Unfortunately, this is where many business owners become arbitrary. Alexander F. Bouri hears businesspeople say that they throw out any résumés with a typo, for example. Unless you’re hiring a proofreader, this doesn’t speak to their qualifications for the job and you’re likely throwing out qualified candidates while keeping some duds. Instead, consider narrowing down the pool using criteria that reflects on personality and attitude, like keeping only those that show active volunteer work on their resumes, or only those with a certain amount of education. Alternately, consider a round of speed interviews where you ask each candidate three questions over the phone, and get a chance to choose candidates based on how they present themselves.
Hire based on attitude
Most hiring managers place far too much emphasis on numeric criteria, like number of years of experience. Alexander F. Bouri calls these “checkbox” criteria because all you have to do is check the boxes and you’re hired. Experience matters, but there are plenty of candidates out there who have spent years in their field under-performing and aren’t really a good hire. Instead he hires based on attitude. When Bouri sits down with a candidate, he is looking for a very specific personality type that is actively engaged in the conversation, positive in their outlook, comfortable in making suggestions, and full of creativity. This is the sort of person who will flourish in almost any position and can always help your team tackle a difficult problem. Plus, it’s easy to train an inexperienced employee, but it’s almost impossible to reform someone’s attitude. Put personality first!
Have a specific set of character traits you look for
The best way to hire people with the right attitude is to carefully outline what that attitude is. Have a set of values and characteristics that you look for. They don’t have to be the same as Bouri’s but you need to be able to list them in your head in order to assess whether people have them or not. Keep it to four or five, but consider them priorities in hiring.
Do you take a different approach to hiring? What is your approach?