Golden Business Ideas

Hiring Smarts
Ask CEOs at top-rated companies what they look for in a new management hire and their list will include these traits: confident, independent-thinking, MBA and graduated at the top of his or her class from a first-tier business school. They want a brilliant, self-assured person who not only thinks outside the box but is even somewhat unconventional—in other words, a star.

Since that’s the hiring (and promotion) criteria these days, consider this question: If many of your star managers focus on thinking outside the box and independently rather than toiling as conventional team players, isn’t there a danger that nobody is supporting the box and it just may collapse? If all that intellectual energy is devoted to thinking outside the existing management structure, maybe no one will even notice the box is broken and needs fixing.

As we struggle through difficult economic times and the collapse of the dot-com, warp-speed mentality, that’s the question some perceptive top managers are asking not only themselves but the highly paid consultants who helped shape their original thinking.

To be sure, not everyone agrees. Procter & Gamble (P&G) is a case in point. There is no star culture in this toothpaste and soap company. Managers are not lured to New York City, Chicago or San Francisco, where we’re told all the talented people migrate, but to quiet and solid Cincinnati. Its current CEO did not graduate at the top of a Harvard class: He served in the Navy and started at P&G as an assistant brand manager, working his way up the corporate ladder slowly and diligently. The company’s management style can best be described as detail-oriented with a rigorous marketing methodology that, incidentally, has produced an enviable, healthy and consistent bottom line.

So to reframe the question: Is it a myth that an organization’s success is a function of its star employees’ superintelligence and innovation? Are we trapped into believing great success comes from one person’s efforts—Einstein in science, Bach in music, Shakespeare in literature?

Or does an organization’s brilliance have more to do with its outstanding systems—its ability to coordinate the efforts of many people? Have we lost faith in good, old-fashioned teamwork?

Sure, teamwork smacks of boring, conventional thinking. It isn’t as exciting as the dot-com days, where superconfident MBAs and brilliant college dropouts in faded jeans and T-shirts pulled down seven-figure paychecks, refused to acknowledge their mistakes and were encouraged to think not only outside the box but, as the hippie generation used to say, “way out.”

There’s no question every organization needs a few stars—innovators who think big and with assurance. But for a company to succeed, it must also have a well-functioning team neatly nestled inside the organizational box. And managers need to be willing to acquire new skills and avoid the potholes of business by learning from their mistakes as well as their successes and move the organization forward.

Say It Assertively
Here’s a way to be more effective when handling a problem at work. Say, for example, you’re reporting to your boss some problem with a bookkeeper. Instead of saying, “I have a problem with George—he’s not filing his reports on time,” say, “George is having a problem—he’s not filing his reports on time.” That takes the onus off you. You’re reporting a fact about George, not your judgment or reaction to his bad habits. It makes you sound more managerial. In general, overusing “I” tends to weaken your image.

An Invitation
The JofA publishes a monthly collection of Golden Business Ideas and invites readers to contribute their favorites (for attribution, if you like).

Send your ideas to Senior Editor Stanley Zarowin via either e-mail ( ) or regular mail at the Journal of Accountancy , Harborside Financial Center, 201 Plaza Three, Jersey City, NJ 07311-3881.


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