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30 Business Principles from 30 Years in Business

April 17, 2023
30 Business Principles

2023 marks our 30th year in business. Quite a milestone! 30 years allows you time to acquire many solid business principles and lessons.

Some reflection being in order, I thought back to the inauspicious bootstrap beginnings of the firm – in a one-bedroom apartment with a fax machine – and the extent to which the world has changed since 1993. The funny thing is, while technology has transformed HOW we do business, WHY we are in business really remains the same – human nature doesn’t change. People change jobs, companies need to improve talent to grow, and top performers with highly specialized skills and personality requirements for niche jobs don’t grow on trees.

Over the years, a number of people have given me evergreen wisdom and insights that I have incorporated into how I work, and how the firm serves both our clients and our candidates. Our 30th anniversary seems like a great opportunity to share the most valuable lessons from both successes and failures over years learning the search business. Below are 30 short but impactful business guiding principles that I hope you will find thought-provoking and valuable and can apply in your business and professional life to make you better, stronger, and wiser. They are proven principles I wish I had known earlier – but am glad I learned at any point along the way.

30 Time-Tested Business Principles

30 basic business principles learned over 30 years (in no particular order):

  1. The right hire will give you exponentially better ROI than any other investment; the wrong hire costs far more than just salary
  2. You can close a knowledge or skills gap but you can’t change someone’s attitude
  3. Don’t rely too much on one tool, method or piece of information to make a hiring decision – all tools have limitations. Instead, look for consistency across multiple data points to make your assessment
  4. Hire for strengths rather than just trying to avoid weaknesses. Look for indications someone CAN do the job – not reasons to eliminate them
  5. Accept the fact that you will never have all the information to make a decision
  6. Listen and try to understand what the person on the other side of the desk is really trying to say to you – don’t fall into the trap of confirmation bias
  7. Exercise your “why” muscle – ask “why” questions often
  8. Ten years of experience is not the same as one year of experience ten times. Make sure you know which one you are getting
  9. Past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior
  10. Take direct action with problem employees sooner than later or the damage will be worse than you think
  11. Life is too short to work for a jerk. Keep your freedom. Don’t be afraid to walk away – something better will show up
  12. Good people take responsibility for their actions and learn from their mistakes. Never hire anyone who can’t easily describe a failure they have had, own their part of it, and demonstrate how they applied what they learned from it
  13. Talk about everything in a potential job or package that is essential to you – you don’t have time to waste if there are showstoppers you could have known about in the beginning (but see #5)
  14. The person on the other side of the desk is more than their job title – they are a human being just like you
  15. Interviews must be a two-way sell. Every interaction with a candidate is conveying an image of your company to them and potentially their entire network; every interaction with a company during an interview process likewise conveys an image of yourself within that organization and potentially beyond it to customers and suppliers
  16. Be quick to express gratitude and recognize the input of others to your success
  17. Lack of consensus is not an excuse for failing to make a decision
  18. Leaders lead, whatever level of the organization they are at
  19. When hiring, have a backup plan whenever possible
  20. Versatility, adaptability and resilience are as important as a specialized skill in today’s business climate. A strong utility player is a good hedge against unexpected changes in the landscape
  21. Be willing to do the dirty work
  22. Don’t be a victim. Your attitude determines more than you may think, as do the words you speak over your life and the lives of those around you. Sow your words thoughtfully as they will create a harvest of one sort or another
  23. Don’t be afraid to talk about money. It’s just a factor, like commute or travel or relocation. It’s not personal. You may not get a clear answer but get the topic out in the open at least to avoid surprises (see #13)
  24. Character and integrity are demonstrated by actions not words. Challenges come to everyone, but what you do with them is the difference maker: keep doing the right thing even when the wrong things are happening (but see #11)
  25. There is no substitute for diligence: persevere to become more effective
  26. Know what you believe and why you believe it. Then you can stand tall in the storm and not fall for BS.
  27. Every day, before you start work, ask yourself “What is the most important thing I need to do today?” Make sure you do that.
  28. The seeds you are planting today will be the beautiful flowers or noxious weeds in your garden years from now. Plant accordingly.
  29. I have interviewed many candidates who thought they could exchange some freedom for more security. They were incorrect.
  30. Just because it’s a trend doesn’t mean it’s right. Do your own due diligence and make up your own mind.

Business Principles That Have Shaped You

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments. Which of these made the strongest impact on you? Why? And what other words of wisdom have people spoken into your life that have made a meaningful difference to you?

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