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Published:February 25th, 2013 11:47 EST
Solving Washington's Ineffectiveness: Take a Lesson From Zappos

Solving Washington's Ineffectiveness: Take a Lesson From Zappos

By Jay Forte


Washington DC suffers from a critical "lack of talent" where talent means having the right people in the right job. Electability seems more a popularity contest than a process to elect (hire) the right people.


If in the workplace, we performed at the level our current legislators perform at, we would be fired. Impeding progress, refusing to collaborate, creating artificial crises, disregarding core values, and not taking personal responsibility for progress will land you in the unemployment line in a heartbeat. Yet, year after year, our government is populated with people who don`t make things happen. We should consider our election process the same as a job interview - a time to assess who fits and who doesn`t fit the job. This lesson from the workplace could help solve Washington`s ineffectiveness.


Not everyone fits every job. Each of us is uniquely hardwired we have talents, strengths and passions that, in the particular combination, are exclusive to us.


Core to success in public office is an intrinsic desire to serve. Sure, the ability to connect with others, listen and gather information, negotiate and get things done are also critical. But what inspires success in these jobs is the passion to serve " or at least should be. And when it is not present, it changes the reason for the role to one that is more self-serving and ego-driven. So why is it we elect people who don`t meet the core requirements to be successful in (who don`t fit) their jobs?   


A great place to see fit in action is the workplace. To be successful in today`s jobs, employees must be both good at what the job requires and like doing it. This is because as we migrated from our industrial age to today`s intellectual or service age, employees are no longer working behind machines; instead, they are face-to-face or phone-to-phone with customers. This personal connection with customers reminds us that only those employees with the right abilities, attitude and passions should be able to connect with customers (this affects your brand). This changes not only the definition of performance but also who is a good fit for each job.


As employees are now visibly accountable to customers, two things must now happen:

  1. We each must know our talents and strengths to know which jobs fit our abilities; we know the opportunities that allow us to excel.
  2. Organizations must know, define and hire employees who have the right combination of abilities for the job, rather than just experience; they hire those capable of adding value and making a difference in the particular environment.

This is what it takes to build an A-level workforce that gets things done.


For a better visual, consider the role of a salesperson and an accountant. Each, to be successful, has distinct talents, strengths and passions to do the job well. Great accountants are analytical and empirical; great salespeople are social, relationship-focused and connective. Core talents are the result of brain connections inspired by our particular DNA and development. We have no more ability to define which talents we are born with than to pick our personality " we get what we get. Our responsibility is to discover our strongest abilities and to connect them with the right applications in today`s world. This is also the responsibility of organizations in the hiring process "to hire those who have the right combination of talents, strengths and passions to be effective in the particular job.


Put the accountant in the sales` role or put the salesperson in the accountant`s role and each will show up less than optimally " they just don`t fit the role. This happens in every job " including politics. Defining which abilities are needed to be effective in the role of politician would significantly improve our ability as voters to assess whether a candidate has the core abilities and interest to be effective in the role. This moves the process out of a popularity contest or one that favors the wealthy and returns it to the voters to assess and decide who has the abilities that fit the job.


The next time you are on the phone with Zappos customer service employees, listen for how they fit their jobs. Listen for their abilities and for their passion to serve. They listen, think, care and respond all with an intense interest in the customer`s needs. They focus on solutions, outcomes and action. They use everything they know and all their experience to connect with the customer and to get things done in an epic way. Zappos insists on hiring only the right people " those who are committed to their vision and values, and have the talents to deliver it. This is why they are they way they are. Great lesson.


Our current assessment and ultimate election of our politicians generally comes down to political sound bytes, scripted responses and advertising. What if instead we were to require our political leaders to prove they have the behaviors needed to be successful in the role (as we do in the workplace)? What if we were to require our politicians to continually show up as leaders who are held accountable to the voter by getting things done, leading with vision, connecting with constituents, living a personal standard of excellence and committed to service. As some people are not a good fit for being a salesman, engineer, accountant, attorney or elementary school teacher, some people are not a good fit for a role in public service. A talent-based approach to electing (hiring) our public servants " which could include a Talent and Performance Assessment " could be an effective way to determine who has the right hardwired abilities and passion to serve " in other words, who fits.


I teach a course on developing the next generation of leaders (succession planning) " a program for businesses. In it I share that what makes great leaders is part DNA and part education. Great organizations watch for specific required core abilities in their future leader candidates (not everyone has these) " the attributes mentioned above. And those who have these attributes can then be further developed in to the organization`s leaders through mentoring, education and expanded opportunities. Not everyone fits every role. Politicians follow the same rule.


In the workplace, poor company performance is frequently the result of the wrong people in the wrong jobs. Smart companies quickly address performance shortfalls by realigning employees to jobs that better fit them or usher them out. We have the same thing going on in Washington " too many of the wrong people in the wrong jobs. Until we clearly define the profile of an effective politician " where, in addition to its required abilities, is a core passion to serve " we will continually see people in roles that don`t fit them. Think about the accountant and salesperson in each other`s roles.


It is important for us to stop making politics a popularity contest; elections are a job interview. Ask the tough questions. Make candidates prove that the talents, skills, passion and experience required to be exceptional in the role. Hold them accountable for action, progress and performance. This is how the great companies do it in the workplace. This is how Zappos builds a power team and delivers amazing results. Why should it be any different in Washington?