Is Your Team Made up of Racehorses?

Can our Grand National horse, Perfect Candidate, teach us the foundations of a successful team of perfect candidates in the workplace?

What do you look for in your employees? Skills or behaviours? Experience or cultural fit? Of course, you will be looking for elements of all of these, but which of these really make a difference in the workplace?

As recruiters, we are in a unique position to see the full spectrum of opinions here, across the companies and leaders we are privileged to work with. However, until now, even after over fifteen years in recruitment and ten years running my own business, I could not give a clear answer to this myself.

That changed on a very wet Saturday afternoon at Cheltenham Racecourse. I was there to watch my company’s beloved racehorse, Perfect Candidate (yes – we did choose the name!), race against a high-quality field.

I had the honour of witnessing a stellar performance from PC that left us in awe, and the racing community singing his praises. It left me with a simple answer to the question of what matters in the workplace; character.

His performance captured the attention of esteemed sports journalist, Alastair Down. His article beautifully articulates my new clarity and belief on this matter.

Using Alastair’s far superior literary abilities, some of the key qualities that Perfect Candidate displayed during the miserable Cheltenham conditions were:

‘The greatest hero of the meeting was a grizzled ten-year-old with a heart bigger than Blenheim Palace and an unquenchable spirit. There’s something about a staying chaser, they don’t need to be amongst the greats…they just need indomitable spirit.’

We use the word ‘tenacity’ a lot in the workplace; the ability to reach your goal, no matter what. It is not a skill you can teach, but rather an innate characteristic of any successful employee and racehorse!

PC is not the fastest, nor the most skilled racehorse on the circuit. However, what he lacks in these departments he makes up for by an inner desire, drive and a heart, which puts the rest of his peers, and most of us to shame. It has led to results far greater than ever anticipated.

I have worked with, employed and placed some extremely skilled people over the years, but have seen them fail or never reach their greatest potential, simply down to lacking the drive and heart to push themselves!

 ‘Arkle he ain’t. But he must be about the toughest horse in training. And if you don’t love him then you must have heart trouble because your arteries are hardening.’

We can’t all be founders of a Microsoft or Google or drive ideas like Elon Musk, but what all successful and highly regarded employees do, is work hard and constantly endeavour to get better at what they do.

Five years ago, when we first bought PC he was not the strongest horse on the course. Well that’s unfair, he is in the elite classes of his species and certainly no ‘donkey’ (despite many of my esteemed colleagues describing him as one after his first few results!) What he has done though, under the fine tutelage of his trainer, Fergal O’Brien, has got better year on year.

He pushes himself relentlessly up the gallops every day. I have seen the hill he pounds up – it is

not for the faint-hearted! He is one of the most reliable, determined and hardworking horses out there.

As an employer myself, I want to hire and work with people who constantly push themselves, want to succeed and want to get better. It is such an easy thing in principle to do, but sadly something I see so many talented individuals fail miserably at.

‘The more brutal it is, the better he likes it’. ‘He simply toughed it out.’

So far we have hardworking, goal-driven individuals (racehorses!) People who have these traits still sometimes crumble in times of adversity:

The marathon runner who pulls up at the side of the road when they hit the wall.

The budding actor or actress that gives up their dream after failing at a few auditions.

The employees that jump ship when something doesn’t go their way.

They all lack the resilience that PC demonstrates every time he runs. On Saturday he fought every step of the way, pushed himself to the limit in horrendous conditions, with proven winners trying hard to catch him but failing relentlessly.

Employees that can succeed in the bad times remain positive when they fail and fight back when the going gets tough. These are the people I want to work with.

Paddy (the jockey) kept asking him questions…Perfect Candidate said…’ You let me deal with this’.

Reliability. Can you rely on the people you work for, work with, or lead? I hope so. If you can’t then I struggle to see how your team or business will succeed.

Any jockey that has had the privilege of racing PC knew exactly what PC was going to deliver. PC’s reliability scores are off the charts; across his entire racing career, training included, he has never once unseated his rider. A highly impressive, but often overlooked statistic.

Knowing that your colleagues will deliver strong performances consistently, makes it infinitely easy to deliver success.

‘Perfect Candidate does jump racing a service every time he sets out. He won’t get stopped for speeding but he is a wonder to behold’.

There are plenty of other behaviours that you may look for in your new or existing colleagues; a sense of humour? The ability to influence? Strong team ethics? Integrity? The list goes on.

However, if you can find someone who works hard every day, strives to learn and improve, has a clear desire to succeed, and will consistently fight alongside you in the bad times…. snap them up and do not let them go!

PC sadly cannot crack a joke, he can’t negotiate on my behalf and he may well steal my carrots if I turned my back, but what he does have is the making of a first-class employee. That said, I think we will keep him focused on what he is really good at…racing and winning. The Grand National is in his sights!

In my company we use the analogy; if are they ‘Up for it and Up to it.’

…If I had to choose now I will take ‘Up for it’ every day of the week!


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