Leading the Dream Team with Mike Zani at Predictive Index

Do you think about creating your dream team as your company grows? Great leaders know that people are essential to scaling up. It takes more than a great idea and perfect timing. You have to lead your people to be the dream team. Today’s guest is Mike Zani, CEO of Predictive Index. Mike is a co-author of The Science of Dream Teams. He shares his innovative ideas on the future of HR with me. Mike talks about what it takes to lead dream teams. We talk about the importance of knowing yourself. We look at the best way to hire dream team people. Predictive Index provides a robust set of tools and software to help you with your talent optimization strategy.

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Mike Zani: The Transcript

About: Helping leaders intentionally and strategically design great teams and a successful culture. I get to lead some of the most amazing people in the world. They make coming to work energizing.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Mike Zani: It’s the idea of truly understanding what the job is, you know, what are the demands of the job, truly understand how this person’s going to fit into the team that they’re going to be on and get a sense of what is the work that needs to be done? You know, w what is the strategy that team’s going to mix you and find out if you’re really the right fit for that team. And it’s, if we put you in that, in that situation where you can really succeed, you’re going to enjoy the work better. You’re going to be a better employee. We’re going to get more discretionary effort out of you because you come home energized. You tell your spouse. Yeah, work was great today. You know, I loved it. I can’t wait to go back and you wake up in the morning thinking about work, not the drudgery, but the joy.

Intro: Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett: Putting together a dream team is everyone’s dream, right? As a CEO, as a leader of your company, or even someone who is just has a team that you want to perform at a higher level, you want the right team to perform. You want a high-performance engaged group of people that trust each other, have a sense of psychological safety dream teams are the dream. When you think about what it takes to do that you have to hire the right people. You have to make sure that they’re onboarded correctly, to make sure that you’re leading them and really supporting them to grow as individuals. And you have to make sure that there’s alignment across the team. There’s so much involved with this whole concept of dream teams. That you want to make sure that you take every advantage you have. So we have the author of the science of dream teams, Mike Zani. He is with a Predictive Index, love this company, and they do some incredible, behavioral-based assessments and other tools and software to help you perform at a higher level to support it. The science of dream teams really will help you understand what talent optimization looks like today. And that is what we talk about through this interview with Mike, if you’re on a journey to be the best leader, you can be, make sure you keep tuned in to Grow Think Tank. And if you want to really take it a step further, I love to support you. Figure out what your notes. The next step is. A lot of people have blind spots. They’re not quite sure what’s. I do these conversations quite often. And if you’re listening to this show, you’re listening right now. And you’re kind of curious about just getting to know me, the host, but also getting to know, you know, where you could move next. It’s not about me selling you anything. I promise not to sell anything to you. And that first call there may be a way we can develop a relationship down the line, but I really want you to go check out genehammett.com. Go to start your journey. If you want to be an extraordinary leader, it’s the best place I know to go. And now here’s Mike.

Mike, how are you?

Mike Zani: Great, Gene. It’s good to see you again.

Gene Hammett: Well, it’s great to see you. I spoke at your conference, what 18 months ago, or so give or take no 18 months. It’s for COVID COVID October before COVID yeah. , it was a great event. You had a tremendous amount of people there, and I really enjoyed being part of it.

Mike Zani: That was exciting. Thanks for speaking.

Gene Hammett: You, your company is more well-known than you are, which is I think a good thing.

Mike Zani: It’s a great thing.

Gene Hammett: But you know, a lot of my clients, probably a lot of people listening in here listen to, or really follow Predictive Index. They use it for hiring and onboarding and the whole coaching aspect of employees, maybe even getting to know themselves. So tell us a little bit about the company before we dive into the book.

Mike Zani: Yeah, the Predictive Index is it’s curious when we bought it in 2014, it was 60 years old and it was often a lot of our certified partners would refer to it as the best-kept secret in business. And as a marketer, you’re like, I’m failing if this is the best-kept secret in business. So we had a lot of work to do too. Sort of refound the Predictive Index unlocks a lot of the value that was really there and start, start the motor running again. You know, when as a six-year-old family run business gets into, you know, deep into the second generation, it, they weren’t, weren’t putting the requisite amount of investment back into the company, even though the product was fantastic.

Gene Hammett: Well, I’ve heard great things about it, especially in the hiring side, you know, what percentage of your clients are using it for hiring and what percentage are using it for maybe the full suite of things.

Mike Zani: Hiring is the number one use case. I think 80% of our clients are using it for hiring, but I really think the best clients are using it post-hire, where you add a tremendous amount of value. Now I know that you spend a lot of time coaching. , and that the value that you can add to change the trajectory of a company is really profound in the post-hire world. So I w I’d actually say most of our clients use it for hiring our best clients to use it. Post-hire.

Gene Hammett: Well, I’m going to dive into the coaching a little bit before, because you shared a story inside the book, that I want to kind of put a spotlight on, but we came here to talk about your book, the science of dream teams. I’m a, hold it out for those on video, but. I always ask authors this question, why did this book have to be written?

Mike Zani: It had to be written. So my business partner, Daniel and I, you know, we’re lucky enough to go to Harvard business school, you know, really well-regarded. And we had these shiny new diplomas and we, we were doing a search fund, which is buying a used company with other people’s money. And we did that in 2004 and we knew enough about strategy. We nailed the five-year plan and basically just executed it. You know, we knew enough about finance to know what to pay for it. And we knew enough about our network to be able to raise money. We didn’t have our own capital. So we had to raise the capital, but what we missed and we missed huge was the talent side of things. We, when we bought the companies, November 23rd, 2004, Daniel and I are sitting on this manufacturing floor of a company called Lead Co with 45 sets of blinking eyes, looking at us, you know, we’re new owners, we’re hearing managers. And we really missed this talent piece and it took us at least two years to sort of catch up where most CEOs are relying on, on either HR or their own conscious and unconscious bias to manage people the right way and to, to, to, to build high-performing teams. So, I felt like I got a master’s degree in human resources at this first company. So the reason to write the book now that I’m the CEO of the Predictive Index, I felt that I could sort of short circuit this pathway to introduce people to this discipline of talent optimization. So they have a clue about, you know, strategic talent management and it needed to be, I needed the book in 20 2004 and, you know, wanted to, wanted to bring it to. You know, the population to the extent I can.

Gene Hammett: Well, it’s the reason most books are written is because you didn’t have it for, for a long period of time. You had to figure it out the hard way. And you’re like, maybe people would appreciate me creating this. And it really is a good book. I’m probably halfway through it. there’s a couple of things that I want to talk about today as we, you know, kind of explore through this book, talent optimization might be a new term for some people. So it’s, it’s a science-based approach to hiring people and working and leading people. Give us a little bit more depth around that.

Mike Zani: Well, I, I really refer to it as a third leg of the stool and I’m in a modern organization. 65% of your costs are people, are people related. So when you think every CEO has a strategy, some good, some bad, you know, most have a one to five-year financial plan to support that. But tragically few have a talent strategy and strategies don’t execute themselves. People execute strategies. So, you know, the CEOs who basically just have an Excel spreadsheet that says, Hey, we’re hiring five people this quarter. And you know, for the average comp of X, that’s not a strategy. It’s not trying to put a world-class team on the field to play the game, to win. You know, talent optimization has existed in sports for the last 25 years because of sabermetrics and Moneyball. And what we’re really doing is trying to take that same discipline that they’ve been using in sports, the analytics to build world-class teams and apply it to the business world so that we’re not doing unstructured interviews. You know, on resumes, which are the biggest piece of fiction in business or managing people the way we, we ourselves want to be managed, but managing people the way they need to be managed.

Commentary: Mike just said something really interesting. And I’ve said this before on stage people execute strategy. Because your strategy is just a part of the business, but it takes people to execute the ideas around it, the actual work, and all of the challenges they have to face. You have to make sure those people are aligned with the strategy. You have to make sure your leadership is pouring into the people. So the people pour into the strategy. Most people have that backward leader focusing on strategy. Means they just hope everyone gets on board. It doesn’t quite work that way. Fast growth companies, the Inc 5,000, all of these interviews, all the research, hundreds of people have shown me the light to this and that, that will be the research that we keep putting together in the message. I keep sharing with you that you’ve got to develop the people you got to hire the right people, and you’ve got to make sure those people are aligned with the strategy. You can’t pull them along. You want them to be the central point of this strategy so that you are developing the people first. Back to Mike,

Gene Hammett: One piece of it in the book. I kind of like about it because I think I’ve made this mistake too in hiring is the gut-feel approach. When you interview someone, you may feel like, you know what? I feel like they’ve got the capabilities to learn. What’s the business and learn what we’ve got to do. And if anyone asks you, you go, I don’t know. I can’t describe it. It’s just in my gut feeling. But you guys give a much different approach to that. What is beyond gut feeling?

Mike Zani: Well, it’s funny, Gene, you remind me of a good friend of mine, Brett who also lives, near Atlanta. , you, you look like him. You sound like him. If I interviewed you, I’d be like, we would be fast friends and I would want to hire you just because I’m smiling. As I, as I sit here and talk to you and, and that’s not why I should hire you. I, I really think it’s, it’s, it’s the idea of truly understanding what the job is. You know, what are the demands of the job, truly understand how this person’s going to fit into the team that they’re going to be on and get a sense of what is the work that needs to be done? You know, w what is the strategy that, that team’s going to execute and find out if you’re really the right fit for that team. And it’s, if we put you in that, in that situation where you can really succeed, you’re going to enjoy the work better. You’re going to be a better employee. We’re going to get more discretionary effort out of you. You come home energized. You tell your spouse. Yeah, work was great today. You know, I loved it. I can’t wait to go back and you wake up in the morning thinking about work, not the drudgery, but the joy.

Gene Hammett: When I was reading the book, Mike, one of the things that really jumped out to me is you opened up and shared some places where you grew as a leader through just looking at your own self and actually one of the chapters is really no, no, thy self, I’m not sure if that’s the exact title of this, but you shared a story about hiring a coach because you wanted to know what the difference was between the way you saw yourself and the way everyone else perceived you and you gave a kind of a front of the t-shirt back of the t-shirt kind of example to that. Tell us a little bit about why that’s important.

Mike Zani: Well, my wife is in the talent space as well. She’s a former bain consultant and her. She quit bain and they became her number one client. So she does a lot of training leadership development of Bain consulting, which are some of the sharpest people on the planet. She comes home from one of these training and said, I met this guy, Jim Allen, who has this great framework called the front of t-shirt backup. And I was, I was blown away by this, the simplicity, but the coolness of this framework. So this is his model. The front of the t-shirt is every job that you’ve ever been given has come from some aspect of the front of the t-shirt. It’s the, it’s the thing that you puff your chest up about. You’re proud your parents, you know, rave about these things when they’re talking about you, but the back of the t-shirt are just as clear. But they’re clear to other people, you can’t see them and you have to go on this journey of self-awareness to sort of understand what’s on the back. And Jim Allan’s hypothesis was he, he developed this for getting to partner at the Bain level. Like if you spend five years post MBA at Bain, that’s about the earliest you’re put up for a partner. If you make it five years at Bain, you, you have tons of front of the t-shirt. No, one’s questioning that it’s the back of the t-shirt thing. They take you out if they are out of control. So I loved this. I was like, I need to find out what’s on the back of my t-shirt. So I hired a coach. We used a whole bunch of psychometric tools, PI being one of them, but things like the fire Obie Birkman Myers-Briggs he did 360 interviewing and we started developing a list of the stuff that was on the back of my t-shirt. And the idea is that you’re not going to get rid of this stuff, but you can be aware of it. No, it’s triggered. No. When and how it takes you. And sort of just own it. So you own the monsters in the back of your t-shirt, as opposed to them owning you.

Gene Hammett: Will you share your monsters in the book, which was your inability to listen at times? Not all the time, but sometimes. And there were certain triggers that happened. We’re not going to the details of this, but when you understood that you weren’t listening as well as you could. And that’s the way you were being perceived by others. What changed after you really were aware of that?

Mike Zani: I think It was the, I was unaware of how obvious it was to others. And I, I think I’ve always wanted to enjoy and have positive interactions with people. So if, if I’m sitting here talking to you and you perceive that I’m not listening for one of several reasons, which I highlighted in the book, you know, it might diminish the quality. Yeah. The exchange. So I do want to listen to you. I am triggered and sometimes don’t, but I would, in fact, if we became coworkers, maybe you’re even my boss. And I would ask for your help. I said, if you eat if you ever see me doing this, I don’t want to be doing this. Just, you know, we actually use the safety word Ticonderoga, which, which triggers being like, you’re not listening again. And. It’s amazingly powerful because the people you work with they sense it they’re like, you’re really not listening to me at the moment. And, and then I can give them a more fair shake. I’m not saying it’s perfectly fair, but a more fair shake at Atlas.

Commentary: Mike just said something that I want to make sure that we put a spotlight on. He said we’re talking about listening when you said I was unaware of how obvious it was. In the story in the book, he talks about having a leadership 360 feedback and really getting the same feedback from across the people in the organization that he’s working in his partners and even others, they were aligned around this message if he wasn’t the best listener. Now he shared a little bit of this. I’m not trying to poke at him, but you want to figure out where you are as a listener. You want to know that your, ability to connect with people is based on how they perceive you. It’s your back of the shirt. If you’re labeled as a bad listener. Then they’re not going to share their best ideas. They’re not going to give their full heart and passion into what they’re doing and they’re not going to be, , as really resilient as they need to be. If they don’t feel like you pay attention to them. Because what happens when you don’t feel paid attention to you ever gone home and said, I don’t think those people liked me that much. And it plays in your head. Well, if you’re creating that space inside your organization, you want to make sure that, you know, what’s obvious to others. You want to know what’s on the back of your shirt. One of the things I do with leaders and I help their teams understand this 360-degree feedback has been very powerful. And the number one problem is always listening. Of all the ones I’ve done all this, this feedback and assessments, they can do a better job at listening comes up over and over again. So you may be thinking you’re a great listener, but I wonder what your team thinks about you. If you have any questions about that, just reach out to me at [email protected] . That’s my email. I’d love to support you to figure out what’s next for you. Now back to Mike,

Gene Hammett: I love that you opened up about that. , one of the other pieces inside the book, and I think it really goes along with creating a dream team was using the tools that you guys have done through PI to really map how your relationship and Daniel, your business partner work together. And this can be done across executive teams. It doesn’t have to be just this just founders. Tell us a little bit about what you discovered in going through that process?

Mike Zani: Daniel and I were business school classmates. , when we tried to buy our first company, we actually shared 150 square foot office. And in the early days of our relationship, we used to really frustrate each other. And little things that, you know, like I’m a loud talker on the phone and, you know, so these quirks that you have and you figure them out the old fashioned way you work through that stuff. But when we had our first, you know, PI you know, Predictive Index, behavioral assessment, and we mapped these issues where like, these are predicting what frustrates us one really fun example is I’m a lot more risk-tolerant than Daniel, and he’s more data-driven in his analytics. So when I would assess a company, I’d be like, this is great. I’m so excited. And then he would see me, he would perceive it. Over willingness, to invest in this company and maybe even frivolous. And I would see him pointing out all the negative stuff, which was his, you know, risk, a little more risk and tolerance and this deep analytics. So he would go more negative because I was positive. I would go more positive. He would go more negative. And then we would just go farther apart. We figured out, all we had to do was if I talked about the negatives and he talked about the positives were like, you actually see the stuff that I see. And we realized we weren’t that far off and tools like the Predictive Index can help you short circuit, that process of determining, you know, differences in sort of decision-making and work style. And if you can do that more quickly, you’ll, you’ll be much happier with your, your, your work, any even personal relationship.

Gene Hammett: I think there’s a great example of how the tools being used inside of a company, not just in hiring. We’ve got to talk about hiring. Since you’ve said it was 80% use case. , it’s a big part of, you know, why the tool is so successful and you talk about it in the book. What is the key to unlocking, hiring in the talent portion of growing and scaling companies?

Mike Zani: Well, so many companies are, are, are doing this, doing this wrong. And you know, the data looks like it’s a third of the time they’re getting who they needed or who they thought they were getting. And, you know, companies that are even doing it well or are, you know, barely above 50%. So what you really are looking for is fit. And we, we use, we use a, a, a framework called head heart briefcase, and Head, Is, you know, your behavioral drives your cognitive capabilities. You know, really how fast you learn the heart is. You know, what, what gets you up in the morning? Like what motivates you, your values, your interests, your passions, your connection to the company and its set values, goals, and systems, and the briefcase, which really should be called knapsack now with our young people, this is your book of experience. This is really your resume. Most companies are over-weighting the resume. They overweight the briefcase and they’re looking for skills. So they might. Wow, Gene, you’ve done customer service at three consecutive companies. Two of those companies look a lot like us. You’ve shown a great track record of customer service. We want you to do customer service here and it doesn’t dive into the other components. You know, do you really want to work at this company? Are you tied to our mission? You know, do you have the right behavioral drives and cognitive capabilities to keep up with the complexity of this work or the, if you look at the team dynamic. So we sort of flip it on its head and really reduce the ability or the importance of the resume and on historical skills. And we focus more on fit for that role, which interestingly removes a lot of bias because you can actually find people in your own company who have those skills, or you’re, you’re not looking for, you know, went to Yale or. You know, worked at Amazon. So, therefore, must be great if they were hired by, you know, someone as lofty as Amazon or Google. So you can, you can reduce some of these biases that are unintentional in your, in your approach.

Gene Hammett: I want to wrap up today’s conversation Mike.  Just giving you a chance to talk about what we haven’t covered specifically, this is about building a dream team. Anything that you feel like really needs to be said, as you wrap up today.

Mike Zani: We, did a bunch of interesting work, on the science side, trying to map individuals’ behavioral profiles to corporate strategies. So we’ve, we’ve built some tools around the competing values framework. And this is to make sure that, you know, if you took, a team that was managing a hospital, hospitals are risk-averse, you know, first do no harm the Hippocratic oath. The promise that you give the right medicine to the right people at the right time versus the senior team for a startup, which is to break all the rules and, you know, blow up business models and recreate new ones. Like those two teams would be terrible at running each other’s businesses so that we finally linked, you know, your sort of corporate or team strategy with behavioral style. So we can tell, we can tell you if there are. You’re a good fit for the work to be done or the strategy or a bad fit, or if there are gaps, what are those gaps, and how can, you fill those gaps? I think it was a, it was a really important linkage to link, people’s behaviors to the work to be done.

Gene Hammett: What I’ll add into this is my experience with taking the test and getting feedback from one of your strategic partners. I believe. , it’s really insightful to be able to read my own. Things I’m great at things that I’m, you know, a little bit shortcomings that I probably could work on or just, awareness, because I am much more risk-averse or no risk available versus being, you know, adverse to risk, but it helps if you have of that for yourself, but also for others around you. It’s a powerful tool. I really appreciate Mike, you sharing some of this and the book is a fantastic resource.

Mike Zani: Gene. Thank you. It’s been great connecting and I hope we can work together again soon

Gene Hammett: I wanna wrap up here because what Mike just talked about was really important for you to understand if you’re hiring a team. And a lot of people tell me that this is one of the biggest things that they’re trying to do right now is get the right people on the team, on the bus and they’re having trouble. And you want to make sure you use a more modern approach to this other than gut-feel you want to use some tools like Predictive Index. This book walks you through a lot of different things that you can use to improve that process. Hiring the wrong person will cost you so much more money and it’s better to do, do a little bit slower, find a great person instead of just a good person. And this gives you kind of a recipe around that.

And Mike shares some of his insights about being a better leader. If you’re not sure what your next steps are, just make sure you check out some of the resources we have at genehammett.com. I’d love to help you be the best leader. You can be. Take those skills to an extraordinary level of coaching or people. So you can scale the business just go to genehammett.com.

When you think of growth and you think leadership Growth Think Tank as always live with courage. See you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.




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