Dr Dennis Kimbro & his views on recruitment


Talent management in local government (or the apparent lack of it and the complete disinterest there seems to be in it) is something I spend a lot of time thinking about & a bit of time talking about so I was very pleased to be able to see Dr Dennis Kimbro speak at the PPMA conference in London last week on the topic of Building Effective Leaders for the Future.  Dr Kimbro is a lecturer in human potential & entrepreneurship at Clark Atlanta university and he writes books about notable achievers – talent recruitment, development & management is something he knows a thing or two about.

So here’s a brief summary of the main points I’ve taken away from his presentation.

In his research & interviews with 150+ notable African Americans, these are the 4 things that consistently make some people far more successful than most of us:

1.       They dream big

2.       They never listen to advice from friends & critics telling them the reasons why their idea will fail; they go with their own inner belief every time

3.       They dedicate themselves to lifelong learning (see slide on the photo above re what happens to you if you don’t!)

4.       They simply refuse to accept failure.

Food for thought indeed – I hope many of you see some of the above in yourselves. 

He had advice for the rest of us mere mortals as well – mainly around how to recruit good people into our teams – and these are the things you should consider when appraising your interviewees and in this order of priority:

1.       Do they have the right level of talent for the role? (education, intelligence, experience)

2.       How well will they fit with your existing team?

3.       Do they demonstrate the level of commitment to your team’s common purpose that you need?

And when you get them into the room – these are the 3 questions above all others that you should ask:

1.       Why do you want to work in this organisation?

2.       Tell me about yourself – what motivates you? – what are your talents, specialisms and areas of excellence?

3.       If we don’t offer you this job and you go somewhere else, what are we going to miss?

If your candidate can’t articulate their answers to the above, then you have a problem and should probably carry on looking. 

Dr Kimbro is a master of the business soundbite and here are a few of his priceless quotes:

·         Work is not a job, it’s an opportunity

·         The opposite of success is conformity

·         We need to want to make a difference, with others that want to make a difference, doing something that matters (I like this one a lot! – applies to every startup I’ve ever worked in)

·         Complacency is the first step to mediocrity

·         Stop complaining & focusing on the mundane

·         Monday should be a great day because you can’t wait to get to work! 

Dennis talked for an hour & I thought he was inspirational and wonderful.  I chatted to him afterwards & he was charming.  However, in a room with over 200 local government HR specialists I seemed to be very much in the minority.  Here’s some of what I heard later in the day from the HR professionals that are responsible for creating future managers and leaders for our councils:

·         He should have tailored his talk to the UK public sector

·         He was too passionate

·         None of that applies to us, it’s for the private sector

·         I’d heard it all before 

C’mon guys – if you want local government to be a vibrant place for people, especially young people joining the job market, to want to come & work, things really have to change & fast.  Dave Briggs     and I while away the hours we spend on roadtrips playing a game called “If I were a local authority chief exec I would…” and it’s always, always about people – no matter how many times we revisit it. 




  1. “They never listen to advice from friends & critics telling them the reasons why their idea will fail; they go with their own inner belief every time”. As a monitor/evaluator I’d have to disagree, in part, with this. Yes, there are times when you know something is right, then you need to go ahead regardless.There are others when you should at least listen to others as they might have a view you haven’t considered. There are lots of examples – I’ll just say Icarus.


  2. Definitely not Andy – the difference between the UK & the US is that in the States there isn’t such shame attached to failure and because of that people are encouraged to have a go. I would much rather try & fail than not try at all. And when I try something crazy & it fails because it was a stupid idea in the first place, then it gives everyone else a bloody good laugh – so where’s the downside?


  3. I guess the downside for Icarus is that he fell to his death. I agree in America there is a different attitude to many things and there’s the old east/west coast argument there too. But even the Disney creative strategy goes through – dreamer, realist, critic. There’s a difference between following a gut instinct and your heart, and not even giving people who have your best interests at heart a listen. Guess we’ll have to agree to differ.


  4. Appreciate your comments Andy – always nice to have a bit of lively banter on blogs – makes it worthwhile writing them!


  5. Great post Mary but scary how Dennis’ view can be described as “too passionate”. Passion and enthusiasm should be at the top of anyone’s list when shopping for talent – whether that be in the public or private sector. Dream big!


  6. There’s an art to knowing that an idea is not worth doing and just bailing out. Trust me, I have dozens but it certainly doesn’t stop me thinking. The time that I was about to pick up the phone to a bunch of fashion retailers about invite only sales, only to have my lovely wife holding an advert for Brand Alley in her hand. Time to stop then….A shift is needed in this “can’t do” attitude from the UK and it comes from high up the food chain.


  7. Jase & Andy – I think the thrust of this is about not letting generally negative people stand in the way of you doing things. To quote from “Rework” – the new 37 signals book I’m half way thru (incidentally – a great read for anyone who wants to change how they work – you can agree & disagree with a lot of what’s said but it’s great food for thought):”The real world is a place where new ideas, unfamiliar approaches & foreign concepts always lose. Scratch the surface and you’ll find these “real world” inhabitants are filled with pessimism & despair. Even worse, they want to drag others down into their tomb. If you’re hopeful & ambitious – they’ll try to convince you your ideas are impossible & you’e wasting your time. Don’t believe them!”


  8. I like Dennis’ refreshing approach to recruitment and the focus on passion and commitment along with appropriate skills etc. I think organisations often get caught up in the mechanics of recruitment and selection and forget what they really are looking to achieve with the new post. Recruiting new people is one of the most important things we do in my view.


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