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How Steve Jobs got the A+ players and kept them:

How Steve Jobs got the A+ players and kept them:The genius who knew it was all about the people

By Kathleen Quinn Votaw

Steve Jobs’ creative brilliance went beyond designing products. He applied his perfectionism equally to designing his team. Let me quote him on something I’ve been telling my clients for years: “Recruiting is hard.” Steve Jobs has left us bits of wisdom about hiring and retaining talent that should live on in businesses everywhere. Here are some of my favorite themes from his philosophy.

On choosing the right people

“I noticed that the dynamic range between what an average person could accomplish and what the best person could accomplish was 50 or 100 to 1.Given that, you're well advised to go after the cream of the cream….A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.“—Steve Jobs

“Finding the needles in the haystack” is what Jobs called finding his A+ players. His belief was that after you’ve sourced using the various channels: LinkedIn, job boards, internal databases, external directories and whatever else you can find; reviewed all the resumes; and had your one-hour interview; what you have left is your gut. It’s not a candidate’s resume or the answers they give to your cleverly-phrased questions; it really gets down to how you feel being with this person. And that you get from the metadata according to Jobs, whose favorite interview question was “Why are you here?”—a question that would get anyone’s metadata flowing.

Steve Jobs believed that recruiting was the most important thing he did. He managed all of the recruiting for his team; never delegating it. Everyone who made it to a Steve Jobs interview had to be really smart; competence was his “ante.” But his real issue, he says, was “Are they going to fall in love with Apple?” Because he believed that if they did, everything else would take care of itself. If people put what was best for Apple before what was best for themselves, they were probably a culture fit.

On building a world-changing culture

“We've interviewed people where nine out of ten employees thought the candidate was terrific, one employee really had a problem with the candidate, and therefore we didn't hire him.”—Steve Jobs

Jobs didn’t believe that major work could be accomplished by one person, or even a few people. Yes, he said, some people, like Michelangelo, could do a single thing magnificently, but huge projects require “legions” of extraordinary people. And those people have to be managed right, which means a culture that supports them. To him, it was critical that everyone on his team respected everyone else.

Recruiting perfection wasn’t enough for Jobs, nor is it for any company. In Jobs’ world, creating an environment that makes people appreciate that they work with people as talented as they are, and that their work is bigger than any single individual, is equally important. Jobs built cultures where employees understood that their work could influence the world, and he communicated a strong, clear vision of how that would happen.

On leading with a clear, compelling vision

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful, that's what matters to me.”—Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs once said, “I want to put a ding in the universe.” I don’t think there’s a question in anyone’s mind that he succeeded. And the credit? It always went to his field of A+ players. He put his faith in his people, not in technology, which for him was just tools that either worked or didn’t. He believed that people were basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.

He knew the Mac would sell “zillions,” but he and his people built it for themselves, not for the market value. It was his people who were the judges of whether it was a great product or not. Market research wasn’t necessary.

As his former, and estranged, business partner John Scully put it, Jobs’ early team was made up of “people who had clearly never built a commercial product before but they believed in Steve and they believed in his vision.” From the Mac to the iMacs, the iPods, the iPhones and the iPads, Jobs’ vision drove unbelievable innovation—which he believed came from people meeting in the hallways or calling each other late at night with a new idea or the solution to a problem.

On being excellent

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”—Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs believed that we don’t get the chance to do that many things, so each thing we do should truly be excellent—because it’s our life. A good thing for all of us to remember as we strive to succeed in this competitive business environment….

Kathleen Quinn Votaw is founder and CEO of TalenTrust, a unique recruitment firm that helps companies find exceptional talent to accelerate their growth. TalenTrust LLC is located in Golden, CO. Kathleen  recently completed a two-year term as president of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), Denver. Reach Kathleen at or 303-838-3334 x5.

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