5 Secrets of Utility Player

6 Secrets of a Utility Player: How to Hire For Indispensable

It’s easy to hire for rock stars—the folks with the exact niche skills you need in the marketplace. But don’t underestimate the value of a true utility player for long-term success.

How (and Why) to Find, Hire (and Promote) a Utility Player

My boss came back from the succession planning discussion with the executive team. “Oh, it’s all good, you’re a utility player.” As a young Gen Xer, I didn’t love the sound of that. Utility player sounds so, well, utilitarian (practical, functional, serviceable). I was young in my career, I wanted to be seen as an up-and-coming rock star, not an easily tradeable unsung hero.

Six months later there was a massive reorganization and a layoff. My hands shook as my boss handed me the new org chart. Our entire department was missing. And then he smiled. “I have two words for you: utility player. You’re fine. Here’s what’s next (a promotion).”

I get it now. Utility players provide you with the flexibility to embrace change fast without a ruckus. It’s why Inc. recommends that startups hire the utility player first.  

Makes sense. I’ve had several new start-up clients call for help because their original team of founders/specialists just didn’t have the skills to lead as they scaled.

6 Indispensable Utility Player Competencies

Of course, you’ve got to hire specialists for certain roles. But when hiring leaders, don’t underestimate the flexibility you’ll get from a few of these key skills.

  1. They love the Game (and by the game, I mean your business.)
    They understand and are energized by the big picture vision. They’re gung-ho and ready to go with the twists and turns. They don’t play games to get ahead. They stay focused on the bigger mission.
  2. They Build Strong, Trusting  Relationships (up, down and sideways)
    Rock stars sometimes alienate their boss and peers and REALLY tick off their direct reports.  Utility players know that other human beings are their lifeline to success. They’re inclusive. They invest in a wide network of go-to relationships up, down and sideways.
  3. They are Curious, Eager Learners
    They don’t know it all, but they sure try to learn as much as they can. They embrace new situations with curiosity and confident humility as they work to understand what’s really happening and how they can help.
  4. They Work Hard
    They dig in harder and longer than most. They care about quality and doing it right.
  5. They’re Resilient
    Although they’re attached and really care about their current mission, when the direction shifts they can cope with that too (okay, they might go into the bathroom and scream first- give them a minute and they’ll come around.)
  6. They Tell the Truth
    They’re willing to have the tough conversations that make the business and the people better. They ditch the Diaper Genie™ and own the U.G.L.Y. in a way that builds trust and maintains relationships.

Your turn. What have you found to be the most indispensable competencies of utility players?

You may also enjoy our recent post: Interviewing: How to Hire For Winning Well Competencies (interview questions to help you hire the best)

leadership competencies: how to hold a great interview

How to Interview For Winning Leadership Competencies

You’re working hard to build a Winning Well culture. You’ve identified your MIT leadership competencies and are working to cultivate and encourage the right behaviors. How you staff your key leadership roles matters more now than ever.

How will you identify the very best candidates for reinforcing your Winning Well culture?  How will you identify the candidates who really exhibit Winning Well leadership competencies, versus those who just talk a good game?

Be sure you’re asking strategic questions that require candidates to share how they’ve actually demonstrated the leadership competencies you’re selecting for.

Here a few strategic, behavior-based interview questions based on eight key behaviors we build in our Winning Well training programs. and keynote speeches.

We encourage you to weave a few of them into your next interview.

Winning Well Leadership Interview Guide

RESULTS

how to help your middle managers find their sweet spot

Tell me about a time when you had way too much to do—how did you decide what was most important? How did you prioritize? What was the outcome?

Describe three ways you work to communicate and reinforce expectations on your team.

Tell me about at a time you helped turn around a serious performance issue. What was your approach? What was the outcome?

play the game don't game the score

What metrics do you use to measure your success in your current role? How do you keep your team focused on achieving those outcomes?

What do you see as the most critical behaviors in this new position? How would you go about reinforcing them?

Can you tell me about a time a supervisor wanted you to focus on something you knew wasn’t a priority for your customer, your team, or the company? How did you handle it? What was the outcome?

RELATIONSHIPS

Describe the best team you ever worked on. What was your role in making it a success?

When you are working on a strategic project in your current job, how do you go about identifying the relevant stakeholders? How do you get them involved?

Can you tell me about a time you joined a new team and how you built trust with your new teammates?

trust the trenches

Tell me about a project where you successfully delegated some important tasks. How did you decide what to delegate and to whom?

How do you help your team recover from setbacks?

Can you share a time where one of your team members had a new perspective and how you were able to incorporate it into your work?

CONFIDENCE

what makes you a rock star in your role? What makes you a rock star in your current role? How would you leverage those strengths in this new position?

Tell me about a time you had to make a tough decision with limited information. What was the situation? How did you approach it?

What are your favorite techniques for building confidence and competence in your team members?

ditch the diaper drama #WinningWellTell me about a time you had a really tough conversation with an employee. How did you approach it? What was the outcome?

Describe a decision you made that was unpopular and you how implemented it.  What was the situation? Who was involved? What did you do? What was the outcome?

Can you share a time when you seriously disagreed with your boss and were convinced you were right? How did you address it? What was the outcome?

HUMILITY

Own the UglyWhat’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made at work? How did you recover?

Describe a time a project you were leading did not turn out as you had hoped.  What was the situation? Who was involved? What did you do? What was the outcome?

What is the most difficult apology you’ve ever had to make at work? What made it challenging? How did you do it?

What tools and techniques do you use to get feedback from your team?

How would you describe your conflict style? Tell me about a time that you had a significant conflict at work where that style served you well. Tell me about a time when that style got in the way.

Who are your most important stakeholders in your current role? How do you go about getting feedback from them?

Some other innovative interview questions that help uncover leadership competencies

Inc. 9 Interview Questions You Need to Be Asking

LinkedIn: Hiring For Trust: 9 Interview Questions

Fast Company: 7 Interview Questions for Measuring Emotional Intelligence

Your Turn

What are some of your favorite interview questions to ensure you have leaders that are committed to Winning Well?

surprising reason nonprofit struggles to grow

One Surprising Reason Your Nonprofit Struggles to Grow

I regularly speak with nonprofit leaders who wonder why their nonprofit struggles to grow. They have a great theory of change, clear intended impact, enthusiastic donors, but … something is wrong.

Here are a few quotes from some of these leaders. I’ve disguised their identities. Let’s see if you can spot the problem:

“We didn’t hire our staff to be leaders, we hired them because they’re good with clients.” –Human Service Nonprofit Founder

“We’re a family. We don’t want to become corporate with managers and all that.” –Healthcare Nonprofit President

“The last time we did leadership development? Oh, I should do some of that, shouldn’t I? Anyhow, I’m frustrated that people aren’t committed to our work. What do you think is wrong with them?” –Education Nonprofit CEO

It’s a little obvious, isn’t it?

In my experience, the number one reason an otherwise healthy nonprofit struggles to grow is the failure to develop leaders.

Insidious Consequences

Would you be surprised to learn that employee engagement in nonprofit organizations is among the lowest in any sector?

At first, this might seem like a contradiction. After all, we know that connection of work to meaning and purpose is one of the big drivers of energized, motivated employees. Shouldn’t there be a lot of meaning and purpose in charitable organizations?

Of course, there is. But when that passion for the cause is used to justify poor leadership or governance, it creates dangerous pitfalls for culture, leadership, employee retention, and financial resources.

With healthy leadership at every level, your charitable nonprofit can be some of the most fulfilling, productive work you’ll ever do. Without that leadership, however, it can feel like a treadmill of futility and growth is all but impossible.

How to Build Leaders and Get Ready to Grow

Your mission matters. Your people are working hard. Your donors deserve the best impact for every dollar they contribute. Build the leaders you need at every level of your nonprofit to be the best steward of the time, talent, and money you received.

“Every person that gives their life for a cause deserves a competent, diligent leader who invests in their development. It’s time for nonprofits to step up to the challenge of developing healthy organizational cultures. Real human lives are in the balance.”  – John Oliver, Chief Program Officer, National Education Nonprofit

If you’ve got a clear mission, an articulate theory of change, and motivated donors, but your nonprofit struggles to grow, here are five steps you can take to build the leadership you need to get to the next level.

  1. Train Every Leader. No Excuses. No Exceptions.

Don’t give anyone responsibility for people without fundamental leadership and management training.

You would never entrust your life to an untrained surgeon – why would you entrust your most important resources, your people, time and money, to an untrained manager? (Tweet This)

No excuses.

If you’re a smaller organization, you can start internally. Create a leadership development circle (you can download the free Winning Well Facilitator’s Guide to get you started). If you’re a growing organization, consider bringing in experts to help you create a common leadership language, use consistent, practical management skills, and create a performance-oriented, people-centered culture in your organization.

  1. Expect Performance.

As you invest in leaders and equip them with the skills they need to be effective with people, expect them to excel in their leadership responsibilities. Clarify the MITs (Most Important Thing) and ensure you’re both on the same page about what successful performance looks like. Celebrate success and hold one another accountable when performance drops.

I’ve watched too many nonprofit take a few hours with a volunteer trainer to share some leadership tools and then never mention the tools and training again. Don’t undermine your training. Evaluate your leaders based on how well they’re achieving results and building healthy relationships. (Use our Winning Well MIT Huddle Planner to help you and your leaders stay focused.)

  1. Measure What Matters.

Don’t lose yourself in the metrics maze and focus on meaningless measurements. If this year’s 75% functional program expense allows you to double your impact next year, great! Help your Board and donors understand how they’ll have more to celebrate.

Rigorous performance evaluation is a hallmark of effective nonprofits. Every investment you make should have a clear path to increased mission impact. As you invest in your leaders, demonstrate the value: reduced attrition, improved talent recruiting, improved efficiency with donor dollars, greater impact on your clients and cause, and a “next-one-up” succession plan that guarantees effective work long into the future.

  1. Boards, Get Serious.

Boards have an important role to play by setting clear expectations regarding leadership development and regularly reviewing these processes to ensure it is happening. Hold your executive staff accountable for developing their talent and ensuring the organization’s current and future success.

  1. Donors Make a Difference.

Educate your donors about why they should invest their money in organizations that build leaders at every level rather than with those who don’t.

As a donor, when you contribute to charitable organizations, look at their management team and leadership development. Ask questions about how the organization trains leaders at every level to be effective at achieving results and building relationships.

Your Turn

My favorite leadership development is with people who commit to making the world a better place. Whether you’re a part of a for-profit, nonprofit, or public organization, there is an energy, joy, and passion for performance in those teams that’s infectious.

If that’s not your team; if your mission and people are as important as you say they are; if you have the fundamentals covered but your nonprofit struggles to grow, then it’s time to invest in your leaders.

I’ve built these teams as a nonprofit leader and consulted with many leaders who have done the same – even with limited budgets. It’s not about money; it’s about mindset.

How do you ensure leaders at every level receive the training and skills they need to succeed?