Scott A. Jones Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2007
In his 20 years of entrepreneurial experience, Scott A. Jones has learned a thing or two about finding the right people and putting them in the right jobs. The inventor and entrepreneur launched ChaCha Search Inc. in 2006, a search engine with live human guides aimed at taking a bite out of the market share of Google and Yahoo! It is the fifth technology-related company he has helped launch since the mid-1980s; those companies total more than $50 million in annual revenue. When starting a new company, refocusing the direction of an existing company or rebuilding a troubled company, Jones says the people you find and the power you give them will ultimately determine your success. Smart Business spoke with Jones about how to find and enable employees who can make a difference in your business.

Go beyond the skill set. One thing I always say is when you’re bringing in members of the team, they have to become part of the family. As you’re bringing them in, A players are 10 times better than B players, and B players are about 10 times better than C players.

So an A player is literally about 100 times better than a C player. And that shows up not just in their skill sets, but in terms of their interpersonal skills and their ability to work on a team and get that effect of five people on a team can really do the work of 10 if they’re really collaborating and working well together.

I consider the team skills, cooperation, collaboration, to be every bit as important as the skill set.

We have what we call a ‘New Worker Inventory’ test. We’d give a skill test, say, if it’s an engineer coming in. But we also give this other test called the NWI that tests things like teamwork, the ability to work on a team, the ability to follow through. It’s more of those intangible things that predict whether this person will fit in with our team.

We don’t score it like a pass or fail, but we like to see the results of the test before we walk in to an interview process. It kind of tells us where to drill down. If that score’s a bit low, we give them an opportunity to take us through situations where they’ve worked on a team before.

I find that when you get people to talk about their projects, you really get to drill down deeper, in detail how the project played out, who was working on the team, what worked and what didn’t, where were the snags in this particular process. People are sometimes surprised at the level of detail that I drill down on a particular thing, but you often find out some really important stuff by doing that.

Identify the intangibles. Identifying a person’s intangibles is what is happening in the (interview) session. Things like eye contact; when you are having the conversation, are they trying to dominate, or are they listening?

You really try to tune in to the subtle things, the body language, that is going on during the interview process. That can be extraordinarily helpful. I also find that having multiple people in on the interview process is essential because everyone gets a different take, and you get to see what the chemistry is like among multiple people.

The technique I’m talking about might seem normal or ordinary, where you ask questions to dig in to somebody’s past, but I tend to take it beyond the level of other interviewers I’ve seen at other companies or even here.

I’ve had people come here and watch me interview, and they say it is very striking the level to which I drill down. I’ll ask who exactly was on your team, who did you like, who didn’t you like, why, what went right about the project, what didn’t? We’ll get into detail about it. What happened to that customer you were meeting with, why didn’t you get the sales you really wanted?

I might spend 20 minutes on half a sentence of their resume that might have triggered me to drill down. I’m trying to find the situation that is equivalent to the one they’re going to be in here in this company.

Find superstars to carry the load. As a CEO, one of my most important jobs is to back up and see the forest, even though we deal with the trees a lot. One of the best ways to accomplish that is to bring on superstars who can handle the day to day.

I’ve worked very hard at the recruiting side of the equation to find people that are much better than I would be at their particular roles in the company. Then I’ll spend the time I need to take care of the day-today affairs, but they’ll carry the load.

Then I reserve time for myself to think things over, and actually, sometimes, schedule it. I’ll reserve some time and drive off to a park and look around for a while, just to make sure I’m not in the middle of the war.

I need to get outside that so I can think clearly about, strategically, what should we be doing here? Other things I’ll do is I’ll spend a few hours every few days surfing the Internet, not necessarily drilling down on any particular point, but kind of an unguided searching expedition, just to see what is going on in the industry. I try to put myself in situations that are new and different and abnormal that might give me some new perspective on what strategy should look like.

If you stay in the same rut every day, you’re not likely to put yourself in the same context of where the world is going. You have to feed and nurture that side of things, and that’s not trained in college. How do you really get out of the box in a way that gets you to think about things differently?

Challenge people to think. The best way to challenge people is by example. You take them through it a few times, and they start to know what you’re going to walk in and say when the meeting begins, that I’m going to challenge them as to how might we get this thing done. I use a variety of techniques and creativity to get it done, but I’ll bring it to the table in various situations in my companies.

HOW TO REACH: ChaCha Search Inc., www.chacha.com or Scott A. Jones, www.scottajones.com