Monday, March 24, 2008

Tips on hiring direct from Dell


At the age of 15, Michael Dell broke down a brand-new Apple 2 computer and rebuilt it, just to see if he could.

When the young computer enthusiast was 18, his father told him: "You've got to stop with this computer stuff and concentrate on school. Get your priorities straight. What do you want to do with your life?"

"I want to compete with IBM," he declared.

The following year, 1984, he dropped out of college and started up a computer company with $1,000.

Today Dell is a leading global systems and services company with revenue of $61.1 billion.

The story is recounted in Direct from Dell, written by Michael Dell and Catherine Fredman, among the many lessons on entrepreneurship, leadership, management and the direct business model.

Dell is a customer-driven company, and its founder's definition of "best customers" is very interesting.

His best customers aren't necessarily the largest, the ones that buy the most, or the ones that require the least help or service. His best customers, he says, are those from whom the company can learn the most, who teach it ways to add value beyond its existing products or services.

At Dell, they call this adding value "beyond the box". The best customers act as leading indicators for where the market is going. They raise the bar, encouraging Dell to continually evolve from a company that sells components of a solution to a company that provides the entire solution.

Michael Dell is also keen on recruitment. No matter where you are in the lifecycle of your business, he believes, bringing in great talent should always be a top priority. It's also one of the hardest objectives to meet.

People who thrive at Dell are results-oriented, self-reliant, and driven to lead. The company gives them the authority to drive the business in a particular direction, and provides them with the tools they need to do so.

Whether you're hiring someone in an entry-level position or to run one of your largest groups, that person must be completely in sync with the company's business philosophy and objectives. If people think in a way compatible with your company's values and beliefs, they will not only work hard to fulfill immediate goals, but will also contribute to the greater goals of the organisation.

If you hire people with the potential to grow far beyond their current position, you build depth and additional capability into your organisation. That's critical when you face the next wave of growth or the next competitive challenge.

Dell recruits for succession. Everyone's job includes finding and developing their successor - not just when they are ready to move into a new role, but as an ongoing part of their performance plan.

What should you look for in today's candidates to ensure tomorrow's leadership?

At Dell they look for people who possess the questioning nature of a student and are always ready to learn something new. Because so much of what has contributed to Dell's success goes against conventional wisdom, it looks for those who have an open, questioning mind; a healthy balance of experience and intellect; people who aren't afraid to make a mistake in the process of innovation; and people who expect change to be the norm and are liberated by the idea of looking at problems from a different angle and coming up with unprecedented solutions.

Michael Dell not only interviews top-level people, but when he has time he will talk with prospective interns. He wants to learn their viewpoint and perspective. If they have a good rationale for business they will be hired.

When he interviews people, the first thing he wants to learn is how they process information. Are they thinking in economic terms? What is their definition of success? How do they relate to people? Do they really understand the strategy of the business they're involved in today? Do they understand Dell's?

He usually asks about something the candidates did and are proud of. This gives a few insights into whether they focus on the success of the company or personal gain. Then he makes a point of actively disagreeing with them. He wants to know if they have strong opinions and are willing to defend them.

At Dell, the need is for people who are confident enough of their own abilities and strong in their convictions, not people who feel the need to agree in the face of conflict.

Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under the brand TheCoach. He can be reached at Copies of previous columns are available at

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