"If you always hire people who are smaller
than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If you
always hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall
Ogilvy, Ogilvy on
Advertising, 1985, New York: Vintage Books, p. 47.
How a Set of Russian Dolls Can Help You Grow an Organization
of Giants... Not Shrink to a Group of Dwarfs
Great companies understand that their team
has a profound impact on their bottom line.
Advertising legend David Ogilvy understood
that great businesses cannot be built by downsizing their
facilities, nor can they be built by downsizing employees'
potential. So he charged every manager with the task of
hiring someone better suited and better qualified to the job
than they were. This was no easy task, especially when most
people have a natural tendency to hire down (call it
insecurity or call it job security - it's a human trait and
one that is very much alive and well in the workplace). But
Ogilvy got it right and in doing so, built one of the most
successful agencies in the history of advertising.
Grow Up and Out - Not Down and In
To drive home his point, he gave people a
set of Russian dolls when they were appointed to a
management role. Instead of charging his team with finding
people who could perform the task at hand, Ogilvy challenged
his team to find people who could build a great company,
challenge each other to think harder and inspire each other
to build a company that grows up and out.
Within the Russian dolls that get
progressively larger, the manager is positioned as the
tiniest of the dolls. Upon his or her shoulders rests the
responsibility of helping to build an organization of giants
who will continue to grow and push the company (and everyone
in it) to greatness. When faced with the alternative (to
shrink to a team of dwarfs) the right (and indeed, the only)
course of action becomes pretty obvious to even the most
insecure or ego-driven employees.
Consider the costs of hiring down the ladder
of skill and aptitude. A business is likely to see lost
sales, missed opportunities, dissatisfied customers, low
employee morale, high employee turnover, wasted time spent
on training and orientation as it gets dragged into a
perpetual hiring process.
Also consider the outcome of a manager
afraid to hire up. A manager surrounded by yes-men
ultimately stifles innovation, risk-taking and
experimentation. A manager intimidated by an employee who
has greater knowledge or expertise in some facet of the
business is likely to constrain that employee's potential
for fear of being shown up. This results in countless lost
opportunities, not to mention high employee turnover when
those unrecognized people seek challenges elsewhere.
Use the Dolls in Your Team Development
To make the most out of your Team
Development strategy, you may want to use Ogilvy's model and
hand out Russian dolls to your managers. Remember that in
doing so; newly hired team members will get the message that
they were hired by a company dedicated to lifelong learning
and growing up and out.
Another way to get great results from your
Russian dolls is to use them in your new employee induction
meetings and in your annual employee reviews.
When setting down your expectations for new
recruits make it perfectly clear that your organization
subscribes to the lifelong learning philosophy. Let everyone
know that every person within the business has a personal
responsibility (and will receive the necessary support) to
grow his or her skills and ability to contribute by a full
doll-size each year.
Hand managers a set of the dolls at the
point of hire. Use the dolls to explain the constant growth
path you expect all new recruits to embark on and give them
something to strive for.
Charge your people with building a team of
individuals who are greater than and better at their jobs
than their managers. And let the team know they are
supported by a group of managers who are striving for that
to be the case.
To build a great company, you can't be
afraid to hire the best, train the best and demand the best
for your customers. This is the terrain of the courageous,
not the timid. It is also the terrain of the successful, not
the millions of 'also-rans' (think of a race, where you have
a winner, a loser and the rest of the pack who 'also-ran'!).
Ogilvy achieved greatness. He was made
commander of the British Empire in 1967, elected to the
advertising hall of fame in the US in 1977 and received
France's Order of the Arts and Letters in 1990.
If you want to build a truly great company,
consider Ogilvy's idea and introduce a set of Russian dolls
into your organization.
Bear in mind that the highest mountains and
the tallest trees got there by being pushed up not by
everything around them shrinking.