How often have we heard, “Our people are our greatest asset”? The facts tell a different story. Only some people are true assets. These people will make the difference between surviving and thriving-between outrunning your competition and tripping at the finish line.
Yet, most companies continue to struggle in their attempts to identify and develop virtuosos. They eagerly pay top dollar for the talent they want instead of getting top talent for the dollars they pay. The decision makers at Navy TOPGUN don’t have that problem, however. After interviewing USN (Ret.) Captain Thomas “Trim” Downing, a former TOPGUN commander, I understand why.
TOPGUN “hires” students with a specific mission and clear criteria in mind. The mission is to develop, refine, and teach aerial dogfight tactics and techniques to selected fleet air crews who then return to their parent fleet units to relay what they learned to their fellow squadron mates–in essence becoming instructors themselves. The list of criteria remains constant and simple–the chosen few represent the best of the best eligible aviators.
Leading virtuoso talent like a squadron of TOPGUN instructors isn’t all good new, but most of it is. The TOPGUN instructors are a proud group, loyal to one another, fiercely protective of their reputation for stellar performance. They don’t suffer sub-standard performance lightly. Fortunately, they seldom have to.
TOPGUN best practices teach several important lessons to those who wish to create exceptional organizations. First, start with outstanding talent, and make no exceptions. The best of the best expect to work with other superior performers. When you form this kind of organization, you can look forward to your top talent developing allegiance and esprit de corps because they take pride in associating with those who share their excellence.
Second, when you establish a culture of excellence and high expectations, it becomes self-perpetuating. Each generation of new managers understands what top talent looks like, so hiring, development, and retention improve. Tie these talent decisions to a clear strategy, and you have a success formula.
Third, there’s no substitute for raw talent, but taken singly, it doesn’t offer much. The person’s ethics and commitment to developing others must also be assessed. When talent, character, and behavior come together, decision makers can rest assured that they will receive the top talent for the dollars they pay.