Beyond HR: Our secret to building a great team

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Learning to become a People Person

I’m not naturally a people person. I have to work at it. An odd statement, I know, for someone whose worked his entire career in SAP consultancy, a 100% people business. I am never the life and soul of the party; I have been called too intolerant, too blunt, with standards that are too high for some (i.e., someone once invented “The Hirst Test”).

I run Lemongrass’s EMEA business. Oddly, despite my frank admission above, this is an exceptionally tight, aligned, motivated, supportive, and focused team. MBA types may even call it “high-performing”. I can take no real credit for having an extraordinary management approach, or leading scintillating team meetings, or having a unique methodology that’s enabled this team to perform at this level. They’re an amazing bunch of people. They just get it. They get what’s right. They do the right thing. They make it easy. They make my life easy (sort of).

Damn it, Hunter, you were right

I may as well get this over with upfront. @Mark Hunter, you were right. We didn’t always see eye-to-eye and you were frequently just wrong (or making things up), but you were profoundly right. There, I feel better for having gotten that out of the way.

Why was Hunter right?

Mark Hunter was the maverick (I think he would like that) founder of a successful SAP consultancy in the 90s – Axon. Axon was very successful and ultimately was sold for £440m in 2008. In those heady days of astronomical growth in the 90s and 00s, Mark was regarded as something of a star and was a regular on the technology media circuit. When asked by a major media outlet about his secret to success, his response was: “Get great people. The end.”

A nice quote that resonated at the time, but, I must admit, it’s taken me decades to learn how absolutely, profoundly, unquestionably true this is in our industry. Get the right people and:

  • Your projects run with leaner management overhead and at a lower cost and risk,
  • Technical issues, which no matter how good you are always come up, are dealt with quickly and efficiently,
  • Your team, and therefore your company, devour new challenges, endlessly innovating and moving forward, and
  • Your customers love you because they get great service. They stay with you, are confident of your abilities, and extend the work they ask of you.

In my view, no methodology, process, tooling, quality management, or certification can match this. But here’s the great thing– talent attracts talent. It is a snowball effect. Self-fulfilling. Self-fueling.

Talent is HR’s job, right?

If I look at the functional definition of HR, it’s something along the lines of Recruiting and Hiring, Compensation Management, Performance Management, Benefits Management, Professional Development and Training, Employee Relations, Health & Safety and Labour Law compliance (and lots and lots more). In a nutshell, finding, developing, retaining, and rewarding talent.

But here’s the interesting thing- none of my team joined Lemongrass or stays with Lemongrass simply because of HR. This has been the case in all the people businesses (consultancies) I’ve worked for. People don’t work for Lemongrass because we have a great recruitment process, (although I must admit it is pretty good), they don’t stay because of our expense policy and they don’t give the extra 10% because of the training and development plans. So, why do they stay?

So, if it’s not my management skills or Lemongrass’ innovative company policies, how did we attract such a great team? I think it’s for the following reasons:

  • Talent attracts talent. Our talent has talented networks and talent is impressed by talent during the recruitment process.
  • Talent likes a challenge. We do some amazing and complex SAP in the Cloud “stuff”. Talent is always attracted by the next challenge; it does not want to just coast along.
  • Talent is attracted by success. Talented people are highly mobile. If you don’t show them success, or enable them to achieve success, they leave. Simple.
  • Talent prefers a pure meritocracy. We actively recognize and immediately reward and develop talented people. They can never progress too quickly.

Dear Team,

At Lemongrass, we do some pretty amazing stuff. We take the biggest, baddest, messiest SAP systems and move them to the Cloud. We make them less expensive, easier to change, with a better platform on which to innovate. It’s complex, it’s hard, it’s demanding but you make it look easy. Why? Because you are the best in the industry. Thank you.

PS. Dear Lemongrass HR,

I really do appreciate all that you do and achieve. The point I am making here is that attracting and maintaining high-performance teams is everybody’s job. We all need do our part to “Get great people. The end.” Thank you, @Mark Hunter.

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