What is the main thing that people get wrong when building their team? The answer to that, from someone who has spent many years helping people to do it, is simple. They don’t look at it from the other person’s point of view.

They are so focused on what they are doing, what they want and need themselves. They forget to take into account the other person’s motivations, desires, wants and needs. People see this and it puts them off. They don’t feel valued for what they have to offer.

To get the best people you need to maintain a steady focus on the other person. The secret is to listen. Ask questions, and listen. Listen to the answers and answer the questions that they have. Give them the information they need to make their own decision. Then you know you have the right person for you.

What are they looking for?

People are interested in opportunities. Yours might not be the right one for them. But it is a process of exploration and discussion that you need to go through. It may not be the right time for them. You know that, from building your own career.

The question is whether the opportunities that they have in their current situation are better than the ones that you can offer them. This is the constant balance that everyone is making. You need to facilitate their process of evaluation. And be as dispassionate as you can about it.

Don’t take it personally or get too excited about a particular person. If they say that it’s not right for them, understand why. If their reasons seem to reflect reality, accept it. If they seem not to have understood something, correct their misunderstanding. It needs to be an open process of discussion and exploration. People are motivated to explore opportunities.

Your job is to help them make their own decision.

Build your funnel effectively, by gaining a true understanding of the market for your opportunity. Then you will have a good pool of people to discuss it with. If you do not have this pool, you need to assess whether your criteria are realistic. Are you raising the bar too high? Are you being flexible enough? Have you have looked in all the places and at the different job titles that you could have?

If you approach the process just as a buyer, and not a seller, you will limit the range of people you are able consider. Be open-minded and look at people with different backgrounds. Then you will expand the range of possibilities.

It may be that there are other geographies, qualifications, industries, sectors, or levels of people that are worth considering. If you widen the funnel as much as possible you will really understand the market and who the best people are for you.

But when they express and interest in discussing the opportunity with you, treat yourself as a seller. Make sure you give them the opportunity to ask as many questions as they need to. Feed them with the information, and emotional confidence that they need to make a decision. By nurturing your candidates in this way you give them the opportunity to make their own decision.

Make sure the process works for them

When making arrangements give them as much choice and flexibility as possible. Often they will have heavy work commitments that affect their personal lives. You understand this. So give them as much chance as possible to make arrangements that suit them.

Often phone conversations and video conferences can cover a lot of the detail that needs to be explored. Then face-to-face meetings can be kept down to a minimum for the few candidates that turn out to be the best matches.

And keep them informed. Even if it’s not directly from you, your assistant or a team member can keep them up to date with where they are in the process. They are taking time out from their busy schedule. Respect that fact, and do them the courtesy of keeping them informed, at every stage.

It may not be possible to let them know exactly what’s going on all the time. There may be discussions with other candidates, or internal discussions, going on. But at least give them some idea. Tell them when you expect to be able to let them know what the next stage is.

Give them realistic expectations and apologise if these are not met. So often a bad impression is created by not keeping people informed. People understand that things change, but they appreciate the courtesy of being told.

Put yourself in their shoes and consider how you would like to be treated. It may sound obvious, but so often people do not consider what experience of the process potential candidates have.

And interviewing is just that: a process by which each side gets a good look at the other. So make sure you make the best impression. When you make offers and ask people to resign, consider how the process feels to them. It is a life changing decision, with a lot of risk involved. So help them along the way. Give them what they need, and consider how they feel.

A formal process

In the public sector it is important that decisions about appointments are transparent. It is public money and they are delivering public services. So people need to know that the process is fair. This means that a formal process has to be followed. This gives you a useful benchmark for how to run your processes.

When I met Carlos he had just been made responsible for delivering the services required to keep the Houses of Parliament running. This included maintenance, security and facilities. They needed to be transformed into a modern customer focused service at the same time as the buildings were updated and modernised. They needed to be made environmentally as well as customer friendly. This was an enormous responsibility, with a very high profile public and VIP customer base. Carlos needed a first class team to enable him to deliver on the challenge. It was his first job in the public sector.

I helped him to bring in two key people, one responsible for maintenance and one for customer services. The maintenance job was straightforward but the customer services one was not. He wanted someone from a customer experience background. This was a role that existed mainly in hospitality, travel and retail. But the people there did not have the experience of the scale and complexity of the facilities on the site, or they had a call centre background. We realized this would not work. So we went back out and looked for people in the facilities management sector. This could be in other major iconic venues or outsourced suppliers.

We kept the people informed at all times about what as going on. We went back to the people from a pure customer experience background and explained the situation. When we re-engaged with people from facilities management we had a clearer idea of what we needed. So we could explain the emphasis on customer experience of services and assess their understanding of it.

It was essential that everyone felt they had been treated fairly and understood what was going on. Otherwise they could have a legitimate claim for unfair treatment. We eventually found someone who had experience of both sectors. Everyone was happy and they understood what was going on. Carlos was delighted to have given himself the opportunity of considering the best people in the market. By treating everyone properly and keeping them informed the process was fair and effective. He had achieved his goal of building a team that put the customer first.

An informal process


When I met Gus he had a big job to do to upgrade his technical team. He was COO for mining within a steel company. The industry was facing major challenges around waste and water use. He needed to make sure he had top quality technical experts to ensure they kept up with regulation and best practice. This was a big responsibility. Lives were at risk if things were not done properly. I reassured him that we would find the best people for him.

We mapped the market globally and found ten strong candidates. However, during the process Gus left the company and his boss the Chief Technology Officer took over. Unfortunately this meant that two of our candidates took similar jobs in Canada. Both had been working in Australia. They would both have done a great job. But the delay in the process meant that they took the other offers. We found an excellent replacement, but he would not relocate to Canada. So they had to move the position to London, which was their second choice.

If the process had not faced this challenge, they would have had the option of having someone in Canada. They were forced to change their criteria as a result. The process was successful in the end and the CTO was delighted with the outcome. We had kept the London candidate informed throughout and he had retained his interest. It took a year in total but by being open and transparent we had kept all the candidates involved for as long as possible.

These examples illustrate the importance of listening to the candidates and keeping them informed. So you get the best team for you.

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