A little over 25 years ago, I founded ghSMART, a leadership advisory firm, for two reasons, the second of which may surprise you.
First, I wanted to use our expertise in human behavior to help CEOs and investors build valuable companies — and that scope has widened over the years to also include helping not-for-profit and government leaders achieve success. I believe leadership is the most important lever for positive change, and I wanted to build a world-class firm to help leaders amplify their positive impact on the world.
Second, I wanted to give wildly talented and good-hearted people a chance to do fulfilling work that matters, earn top salaries, and have a life outside of work. That’s what I wanted in my career, but I couldn’t find anywhere that I could achieve all three goals. Employers in investment banking, strategy consulting, mission-driven not-for-profits, government, or medicine provided at best two of those three things, but none allowed you to have it all. That would not cut it for me.
So, with great pride, today I announce that Vault’s annual ranking of consulting firms names ghSMART as the No. 1 best firm to work for in client interaction (for the third year in a row), level of challenge (second year in a row), overall satisfaction (second year in a row), and picks us as “Best Boutique Firm” for the first time. We also ranked in the top five firms across seven categories, including hours in the office, work/life balance, compensation, internal mobility, selectivity, relationships with supervisors, and exit opportunities. Click here to read more.
That we’ve been recognized for these honors certainly proves out the ghSMART people strategy; my colleagues feel that they can do fulfilling, lucrative work at ghSMART, and have the freedom to have a life outside of work. It turns out that there are others out there thinking like I did! It is also a reflection of the way in which our extraordinary team of consultants stepped up to meet the challenge of growth during an incredibly difficult year and, for that, I am immensely grateful.
How do we do it?
For entrepreneurs, CEOs, or heads of state who aspire to build a winning team of people who love to work at your organization, we share three secrets to our success that you may find useful.
One: It’s worth the effort to hire the very best. We set a high bar to hire the most talented, diverse, and good-hearted people on the planet. It’s hard. It takes a lot of energy. But a company is only as good as who is in it, right? Following best practices in scorecarding, sourcing, selecting, and selling candidates with discipline and enthusiasm is the way leaders confidently assemble winning teams.
Two: Set your colleagues free. In the 1950s and 1960s, MIT researcher Douglas McGregor debunked Theory X, the common “authoritarian” management style, in favor of a more participative style, Theory Y.
And yet, Theory X management — being dictatorial, condescending, and, well, bossy, to your colleagues, whom you assume are dumb and unmotivated — is still the most common management practice by most employers today.
Theory Y management assumes your colleagues are capable and self-motivated, therefore you empower them to make decisions. At ghSMART, we take Theory Y management to its logical extreme: Colleagues have unlimited paid time off; our consultants have “mentors” but not bosses, so they can choose the amount and type of work they take on; and we do not micromanage how projects are staffed or executed, instead trusting our consultants and staff to take great care of each other and our clients.
Harvard researcher Ashley Whillans, author of Time Smart, has found that employers who allow people more freedom and control over their time have happier teams and are more successful than employers who don’t. That preferred practice seems obvious when you put it that way, yet most employers still cling to coercive and dictatorial management practices!
Three: Reward the value people create. Is there anything more demotivating than putting your heart, soul and countless hours into a piece of work, seeing it succeed, but then feeling unappreciated and unrewarded for the value you’ve created? ghSMART’s compensation system rewards value created, not hours worked. This gives people the freedom to figure out how to make the most of their time at work, to maximize their impact, and yet enjoy being able to control their time.
Who’s on our team?
For ghSMART, the result of this strategic approach has been to build a team of the highest performers, often sourced directly from other top professional services firms globally. Our consultants hold Ph.D.s or MBAs from leading programs and have relevant experience and expertise for their functional areas.
And while our folks bring widely varied backgrounds, they all share two fundamental characteristics: they have to be super talented, and they have to be nice! People who have not performed at the top 25 percent of their peer group won’t get hired. People who have performed well but who are not nice won’t get hired. In some ways, it is deceptively simple — but the Vault ranking doesn’t lie.
Did I mention that we are hiring? If you are looking for that balance or you know wildly talented, good-hearted people from any background who you think would qualify (either for a consulting or staff role), please suggest they email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a career discussion and learn more. I bet you, or they, will end up finding us to be one of the best consulting firms to work for.
Dr. Geoff Smart is Chairman & Founder of leadership advisory firm ghSMART, which exists to help leaders amplify their positive impact on the world. In 2021, Vault named ghSMART as the No. 1 best firm to work for in client interaction, level of challenge, overall satisfaction and “Best Boutique Firm.” ghSMART has published four bestselling leadership books: Who: The A Method for Hiring (by Smart and Street, #1 in the category of “hiring”), Leadocracy: Hiring More Great Leaders (Like You) into Government (by Smart), Power Score (by Smart, Street, and Foster), and The CEO Next Door (by Botelho and Powell).
Geoff can be reached at email@example.com.