So, how do you build a great culture?
It starts with you, the leader, using it as a filter for hiring. My model is Egon Zehnder himself, who founded our firm and gave it his name. From the beginning, he vowed to consider only the strongest candidates to join him: people with double degrees from top schools, international experience, high emotional intelligence and remarkable career trajectories. More important, he would never, ever, hire anyone who was not dying to work in a highly professional, ethical, collaborative firm. Before I joined, I was interviewed by some 35 partners, including all executive committee members, in five different countri es, over a single week. Zehnder personally checked my references with McKinsey, my employer at the time. That’s the standard process, and it remains intact today. Until he retired as CEO, Zehnder met with and approved every single consultant who joined any of our 68 offices around the world – for 36 years. Today his successor, Damien O’Brien, continues the practice, no exceptions allowed. allowing people to learn and develop new healthy habits and competencies. In contrast, coaching that focuses on weaknesses arouses the sympathetic nervous system and does just the opposite. Compassionate coaches are not just positive cheerleaders but also committed guides, conscious of the state and progress of their team and the individuals in it. They are also timely provocateurs, offering the right dose of tough love when necessary. These hiring and coaching practices demand extraordinary discipline. But it’s worth it to create a culture of unconditional love that perpetuates itself and binds your team together into a whole much bigger than the sum of its parts.
Claudio Fernández-Aráoz is a senior adviser at global executive search firm Egon Zehnder and a former member of its global executive committee. He is the author of the forthcoming It’s Not the How or the What but the Who: Succeed by Surrounding Yourself with the Best.
© The New York Times 2014. © 2014 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.