How to recruit a High Performance Team?

Ask any business leader, ‘What makes a top performer in your industry?’

Chances are you will get an answer that focuses on soft skills as opposed to the individual’s hard skills and experience.

  • The ability to create an inspiring vision, communicate it to their team and focus people’s attention on the relentless pursuit of that vision.
  • The ability to build strong relationships, communicate empathetically whilst at the same time holding people to account for delivery.
  • Adaptability, clear thinking, problem solving and managing conflict… the list goes on.

These are the types of skills that make people exceptional at what they do. These are the characteristics that highlight high performers.

Rarely does it come down to skills and experience.

Yes, you need to set a baseline so that the individual is at least competent in the role but the difference between a good performer and a great one rarely comes down to what they can do or what they have done.

It is all about attitude.

I believe that this is a universal principle because if you look at high performing teams outside of the business arena, you will find evidence of them following this process.

Parallels with Sport

In a recent article in the Sunday Times, Jurgen Klopp talked about attitude when asked what he looks for in young players,

‘But skills are only one thing. Attitude is what you should bring. If you have to force somebody to work… it’s no problem, once, on a bad weather day. But if you have to do it every day the boy has no chance.’

Football clubs that invest heavily in youth development tend to be able to inculcate players with an attitude that sets them apart. The Manchester United ‘Class of 1992’ and the Barcelona youth set-up have both developed world-class talent.

This way of thinking, this attitude is something that can’t be bought. It has to be nurtured and developed.

Parallels with the Military

The Royal Air Force train and develop the best pilots in the world. Yet they don’t recruit any pilots…

Their selection procedure is based entirely on attitude and aptitude. The rest of the military is the same. Few people join the Royal Marines knowing how to lead a Troop attack or call in close air support.

These are skills, which can be taught. We value attitude as it is a far greater indicator of someone’s potential and their future performance.

Where do you set the bar?

The problem is that most job notices focus on a candidates skills and experience.

These should be used to make sure that someone can at least do the job but people should be cautious about where they set the bar.

For example, if you place a premium on the type of university that someone goes to, what you are actually doing is judging them by the decisions they made when they were 18…

There is no correlation between what university someone went to and how well they do in the corporate world. You might as well judge people based on their GCSE results.

Skills, experience and education should be used to set a bar but be careful about some of the potentially brilliant candidates you will miss out on if you are too inflexible. You should let ‘wildcards’ through the door and let them surprise you.

The military do not require their Officers to have University degrees.

Most do but they do not make it a pre-requisite for applying. If they did, they’d miss out on a lot of very talented ‘wildcards’ who just happen not to have gone to University.

So if attitude is a stronger driver of performance than skills and experience — how do you test for it? How do you evaluate someone based on his or her attitude?

It is all about the quality of the questions you ask.

David Heron, Managing Partner of Wilton and Bain Management Solutions asks:

What’s the chip on your shoulder? What is the burning desire that pushes you?

The answer isn’t necessarily relevant provided that there is one. He wants to know what is driving the individual. What stokes the fire within them?

What other questions can you ask that gives an insight into someone’s attitude?

If a candidate says that they’re passionate about something — ask them to expand on it.

If they say, ‘I’m passionate about marketing’ respond with,

‘Okay, so what are the future trends that are most likely to impact marketing?’

‘How would you market our business? How would you measure the success of that marketing plan?’

If someone really is passionate about the subject, they should be able to talk about it for at least a few minutes. If they can’t — can you be confident that they really are passionate about it?!

My personal favourite is…

‘Tell me about your self-development plan? How do you spend time improving today so that you are better tomorrow?’

This is a difficult one but if they can answer this question, they’re going to have to work hard to make a bad impression!

The reason for this is that if they’re spending time improving themselves, it proves to me that they are proactively trying to improve and develop their thinking as opposed to reactively relying on their experience to help them develop.

The Ben Franklin five-hour rule, which I have talked about here, illustrates the point.

Self-development has a compound interest effect.

The person that spends time today getting better for tomorrow will be exceptional in years to come.


In the information age, you do not need to complete a course in marketing to understand it. There is so much information out there that you can just follow your nose and do your own research.

There is a difference between learning and education.

Tim Ferriss explains the difference and why he didn’t do an MBA in this post.

What’s your self-development or learning plan?

If they can’t answer that question, ask them what the last couple of books were that they read. What did they learn from them? These can be fiction or non-fiction, it doesn’t matter. How has something that you have done shaped or changed the way you think about something?

The point here is that attitude drives performance.

Skills and experience are necessary to be competent but they are not the defining characteristic of high performers.

So What?

Businesses are increasingly reliant on the quality of their people.

If you want better people, you have to ask better questions. You have to try and get underneath their skin to understand what makes them tick.

Once you’ve got people with the right attitude, you just need to make sure you are challenging and supporting them to grow. If you can crack this, you are on your way to building a high performance team.

Note — If this subject has peaked your interest, I will be talking about it at the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) on Thursday 26 January at 6pm. I can get a few free tickets for people that would like to come along. Connect with me on LinkedIn and drop me a message if you are interested.