Grit: It’s often defined as a resilience of spirit and an unwavering passion for long-term goals. And according to many recent studies, it can be the greatest predictor of success — even more than IQ. Why? As author Robin Koval shares, people who have grit “stay focused and motivated, whatever failures, obstacles, and adversities get in their way.” With more studies pointing to its importance, it’s no surprise businesses are looking beyond impressive resumes in search of people with a healthy dose of grit.
Alexandra Jona, founder and director of the brand design agency BrandBarr, couldn’t agree more: “We aim to hire people who have grit as a characteristic,” she explains. “Adversity doesn’t scare them. It takes a fearless attitude and an entrepreneurial spirit to value the way you lose just as much as the way you win. That’s how you move forward.” In fact, Alexandra owes much of the firm’s success to their strong team and culture. “We’ve grown by referrals, which I attribute to our team,” she adds. “Each of us has a sense of ownership and commitment to the brand.”
“It takes a gritty character and an entrepreneurial attitude to value the way you lose just as much as the way you win. That’s how you move forward.”
So how exactly can you build a resilient team with a strong sense of ownership? In this article, Alexandra shares her secrets for how to find those people and further develop a “gritty” mindset.
1. Start with your values
You’ve probably heard this advice before. You may have even rolled your eyes at it; writing your company values is easy to bump to the bottom of your to-do list. But if you want to recruit people to make your vision a reality, you better know what you stand for. Otherwise, how can you attract the right people if you haven’t defined what “right” is?
From the beginning, BrandBarr has had a strong identity. Based in Detroit, Michigan, the team embodies the energy of the resilient city: They’re bold and full of passion. “Detroit has that whole feeling right now — that you’re overcoming obstacles,” says Alexandra. “That’s why we look for people who aren’t afraid of challenges.” With a mission to help local businesses with big dreams and small budgets, BrandBarr wants a team that works hard for their clients.
“Detroit has that whole feeling right now — that you’re overcoming obstacles. That’s why we look for people who aren’t afraid of challenges.”
BrandBarr’s values boil down to six elements: communication, agility, trust, forward-thinking, grace, and ambition. And these aren’t just words on a page: BrandBarr evaluates people by these values during interviews and regular review sessions. They’re the cornerstone of their culture. After all, in a client-facing business, your people are your product. So if you want someone who’s got grit, they need to feel motivated by what you stand for.
Five steps to help you define your company values:
Whether you’re aware of it or not, your personal values define your working culture. Plus, if you’re passionate about your company values, that’s one of the most effective (and authentic) sales pitches you can give when recruiting top talent. Your values will become a set of guidelines for hiring and evaluating the ongoing performance of your team.
2. Interview for attributes of grit
Finding people with “entrepreneurial spirits” is especially important for small teams. As Alexandra notes, “When challenging situations come up, they’re more likely to rise to the occasion.” For BrandBarr, that often means finding risk-takers. “We want people who have a healthy sense of fearlessness. People who think big and are resourceful when the resources may be tight.”
So when it comes to interviewing, Alexandra often uses three interview questions to unearth someone’s independent and resilient attitude:
- What’s an example in your life when you didn’t listen to cultural norms? Or challenged them?
- Would you describe your career path as traditional?
- Name a situation where you failed and perseverance helped you reach your goal.
Hiring people who think independently creates the ingredients for an ownership mentality across the company. Below are a few more questions to suss out grit, courtesy of Forbes. These questions can help you identify who has initiative, persistence, and can stay focused on long-term goals.
Four questions to identify candidates who have grit:
1. What are you most proud of, personally or professionally?
2. Tell me about a time you turned a dream into a reality.
3. When have you had to work for a long period of time and what kept you engaged?
4. When have you tried to improve a process or product and what were the results?
“We want people who have a healthy sense of fearlessness. People who think big and are resourceful when the resources may be tight.”
3. Give and receive frequent feedback
It’s one thing to hire for grit, it’s another to foster it. The BrandBarr team has quarterly check-ins to ensure people are progressing and continuing to steward company values. Each person takes a questionnaire that asks them to rate themselves on specific qualities, like accountability, teamwork, and client service. They’re also asked to provide free-form feedback about everything from company operations to team dynamics. According to Alexandra, these quarterly reviews “allow people to safely take inventory of what they need to do their job well over time.” Quarterly reviews — instead of annual ones — allow people to track and adjust progress more quickly.
Alexandra also sets a culture of frequent informal feedback: “In the creative space it’s important to take critical feedback objectively and not personally. We’re trying to balance so many opinions between team members, clients, and stakeholders.” Being able to take critical feedback and turn it into something productive is a crucial component of taking ownership of one’s role and final products. As she sums up, “it’s important that we maintain a sense of openness and humility.”
4. Provide the flexibility your team needs
One way to hire and retain a great team is to give them the room they need to bring their best selves to work. That’s one of the strongest ways to show a team that you care. For BrandBarr, that means a few things:
- Supporting passion projects: BrandBarr teammates actively support each other’s hobbies. “One of our team members designs custom letterpress and stationery. Another creates linocuts and makes furniture. These projects lend to the entrepreneurial mindset that each of us has.”
- Offering flexible hours: “We don’t have a set start time at work,” shares Alexandra. “I don’t believe you should be chained to a desk all day at certain times. Instead, maximize your productivity by harnessing your natural high and low energy points of the day.” It’s an approach that allows people to get into their own flows.
- Forgetting sick days: BrandBarr doesn’t track when someone gets sick. They trust that people will take the rest they need to bring their full, healthy selves back to work.
- Summer Fridays: Sunny weather can be a rare thing in Michigan. Getting off early on Fridays is a fun and much-appreciated perk for the team.
“I don’t believe you should be chained to a desk all day at certain times. Instead, maximize your productivity by harnessing your natural high and low energy points of the day.”
The power of team
If you want to build a team of owners, take a page (or two) from BrandBarr’s playbook. It’s your team that will take your business to the heights you dream of. “I’ve come to realize that you’re only as motivated and inspired as the people around you,” reflects Alexandra. “People are the real dream-builders. Culture is the most important piece of a business’s success.”