Talent Strategy Benefits When Visionaries and Integrators Team Up

By Kurt Wilkin, YPO member

If you want something done right, do it yourself.”

That adage sounds like me three years ago. But it could be any number of our HireBetter clients. It could also be one of the thousands of middle market CEOs looking to scale their company. Could it be you?

I bet I’m not too different from many of you, especially those of you who are founders. But about a year ago things changed. I partnered with fellow YPO member Chris Carmouche, who now serves as our president. Chris is different. Chris is an operator.

I dream up new ideas all the time. And I’m not afraid to attempt to implement them all the time (corporate ADD anyone?). Chris has the ability to distill those ideas, prioritize them and accomplish the important ones.

I like to be out front, leading the charge, on the stage, in the spotlight. Chris likes to stay in the background and profitably run the business.

As with the anonymous quote that “Revenue is vanity. Profit is sanity. Cash is reality,” I like revenue, Chris likes profit, and we both like cash.

In their popular business book, “Rocket Fuel,” authors Gino Wickman and Mark Winters suggest that most leaders of middle market companies have certain strengths and tendencies that drive the early stage success of the company. But until they successfully partner with someone who balances them out, they usually are not able to scale the organization and help it grow to its fullest potential.

You may have heard the term “inside guy” or “outside guy.” “Rocket Fuel” uses the terms “visionary” and “integrator” (I often refer to the integrator as an operating or execution partner, because it tends to make sense to most entrepreneurs, especially those who haven’t read the book.).

The simplest definitions for these leadership styles I’ve heard and often use are “the visionary sees the future and the integrator makes it happen.” Chris and I are classic examples of each of these.

Embrace who you are, your strengths and weaknesses, and then partner with someone who balances you out.

I like the book because it highlights differences between the two types of leaders and helps us understand why or how we’re different. And it makes it okay to be different! I’ve spent much of my career almost apologizing for the fact that I don’t do details very well. I’ve tried to overcompensate by working harder, working longer hours and doing things that are not my strong suit. Essentially fighting with one hand tied behind my back.

But I’ve learned to embrace the differences in personality types and accept my gifts. And I think it’s simply best practice for me to partner with an integrator. Similarly, your chances of success will go up exponentially when you’ve got both skill sets operating in concert — like beautiful music.

In previous articles, I’ve written about my own entrepreneurial journey with HireBetter – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Before HireBetter, I founded The Controller Group and had a very successful run — but it would not have been possible without my execution partner, Brett Lawson. We came at things from different perspectives and we disagreed. A lot.

However, we had the three biggest things I think are required of a successful relationship: trust, respect and communication. Sometimes the answer was my idea, sometimes his, and oftentimes something in between. But we always supported each other, and the results were spectacular.

Talent strategy is about recognizing and mitigating risks by placing someone stronger in the role or mentoring  junior associates.

With HireBetter, I have partnered with another great operator, Chris, who has a long track record of success in a variety of industries. He has an innate ability to make things a reality. He executes concepts that I know are important — but I do not seem to have the ability to make them a reality. As a result, since we have added his integrator skills to the team, HireBetter has been taking off like the proverbial rocket ship.

When it comes to talent strategy, I’m a bit of a gunslinger. When my team tells me we need more people, my response (and the response of many of you with visionary tendencies) is usually, “then go get more people!” This approach can be useful at times, and we have added some great talent. However, if we’re going to grow and scale — and be profitable — we need to be more measured. It doesn’t mean we don’t take chances, but it means we need to be more strategic with our hiring. Less reactive.

I’m “Ready, Fire, Aim” and Chris is more “Ready, Aim, Fire.” He will absolutely make key hires when it makes sense. But he wants to ensure there is a need, that we can afford the investment, and that they have clear goals, responsibilities and accountabilities. I love it. His questions help me determine whether I really want this person. I ask myself the question “is this a person or a role that I want to place a bet on?”

Talent planning is a huge part of helping our clients succeed. But the way an integrator works to execute the principles of talent planning is very different from the approach of a visionary. There are several things that each needs to keep in mind when working on talent strategy within their organizations:

Talent planning is a critical piece of efficiently moving through the growth curve. Managing the timing of that is the hardest – and most important – part. Too early and it’s a strain on cashflow, too late and it’s a strain on sales and fulfillment. There is a real need to evaluate talent on an annual (or more frequent) basis. Where are you today? Where do you want to be in three to five years? When you have clarity on growth goals, map out the talent you need to execute on those goals.

This makes sense for visionaries, but it is not easily done. Work together to develop a talent plan. You’ll be glad you did.

Talent is often overlooked as a key component of success. It usually falls behind financial or operational performance in terms of importance. It is often out of sight and out of mind – until it rears its ugly head. Once major talent problems arise, you enter reactive mode and it becomes harder to see the bigger picture. Talent strategy is not only about putting people in seats. It’s about recognizing and mitigating risks by placing someone stronger in the role or by mentoring and counseling junior associates.

As a visionary, I appreciate the concept of cultivating talent, but I need an integrator to develop a plan and provide structured mentoring and counseling to get them there.

The ability to recognize talent deficits and upgrade positions allows you to put processes in place to scale the business. Talent problems are often symptoms of larger issues, so it is important to think of talent planning in the context of the overall health of the business. Talent is one piece of the puzzle along with clear vision, performance metrics, cohesive systems, and a culture of accountability and high performance.

I get it. I appreciate it. I even crave it. But I need an operator – I need Chris – to make it a reality.

What does this mean for you? We encourage you to take a step back and assess who you are as a leader. Are your tendencies more visionary or integrator in nature? Hint: you probably have some tendencies of each … and one is not necessarily better than the other. Embrace who you are, your strengths and your weaknesses. Next, surround yourself with a talented team who balances you out. Then buckle up for the entrepreneurial journey of a lifetime!

To assess where you’d land on visionary-integrator spectrum, why not take the quiz in the book? I think knowing where you stand is so important that I am giving away free copies of “Rocket Fuel.” Request one here.

Kurt Wilkin is the CEO of HireBetter. As an entrepreneur, Wilkin has experience growing, scaling, and exiting high-growth companies and now devotes his time to helping business leaders unlock their own success. His responsibilities include strategic client consultation, client satisfaction, recruiting and practice development. Prior to founding HireBetter, Wilkin founded and led The Controller Group (TCG), a professional services firm focused on accounting, technology and recruiting, acquired by Tatum in 2006. He began his career with Ernst & Young and later served as Controller and Vice President of Finance for eFANshop. He is an alumnus of the University of Arkansas, a Certified Public Accountant, an active angel investor and a board member for several companies and nonprofits. He lives in Austin, Texas, USA, with his wife and three sons, and can usually be found coaching youth sports around town.

With more than 26,000 members in more than 130 countries, members of YPO are peers who share in common the achievement of success at an early age; a commitment to learning as a lifelong adventure; and a desire to connect authentically in an environment of trust and confidentiality. If you are a member interested in contributing, please email blog@ypo.org.