Who Not How Book Advice: Invest in Personnel

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Who Not How" by Dan Sullivan. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What does the book Who Not How say about investing in personnel? How can spending money to hire more employees benefit you?

In their book Who Not How, Sullivan and Hardy give four reasons why you should hire more personnel. They say that having more personnel will grow your business faster, will make you more money, will improve your personal relationships, and will help you optimize your purpose.

Here’s why you should invest in more personnel, according to Sullivan and Hardy.

1. Personnel Speed Up Your Results

In their book Who Not How, authors Sullivan and Hardy describe four ways in which investment in personnel creates stellar results in your business and outside of it. 

The first advantage to investing in personnel is that doing so increases the amount of time you have and how effectively that time is spent. According to Hardy and Sullivan, the most effective way to spend time is in whatever way achieves the best results as quickly as possible—and most entrepreneurs, they explain, don’t do that. Because they prioritize costs, many entrepreneurs address problems by spending their time instead of their money, wasting both in pursuit of a subpar result. Instead, the authors argue, you should reclaim your time—improving your own effectiveness and your outcomes—by hiring personnel.

(Shortform note: Time management is crucial for entrepreneurs because they’re responsible for an entire company’s results—as such, there’s always a task waiting for them, and there’s always a better way to spend their time. Hiring personnel frees up time better spent on tasks that make more money.)

The authors describe three ways in which you’re likely wasting your time, and explain how personnel can help you with each:

1. Struggling Alone Is a Waste of Time

An expert accomplishes your goal faster and better than you can because they already have the necessary skill set. They know what to do, so they don’t procrastinate; instead, they make the best move right away, achieving the best result as quickly as possible. 

(Shortform note: Even though, as Sullivan and Hardy state, handing off tasks to experts is optimal for efficiency, many leaders resist doing so. There are two primary reasons why entrepreneurs can be reluctant to delegate: Either their single-player mindset means they’re used to doing everything themselves, or they feel so responsible for their company’s outcomes that they’re not comfortable relinquishing control. Remember that as an entrepreneur, your job is to do what nobody else can—to lead, build, and promote your business—not to do rank-and-file work. Leave that to your employees.)

2. Engaging Halfheartedly Is a Waste of Time

Being the right person for a task is about more than just having the knowledge and resources to do it: You do your best work when you’re engaged and excited. When you’re not, you don’t just waste your time—you also waste the time of anyone who relies on you to be their expert. That’s right: You, too, are “personnel” to someone, whether that’s your shareholders or your spouse, and when you waste your time, you diminish their outcomes. Leave every task you don’t love to a passionate expert, and spend your time doing your best at what you love most.

(Shortform note: Entrepreneurs often highlight the importance of passion for their work because it’s a powerful motivating factor—it’s where you draw your vision and purpose from. Passion is particularly important because starting a business is often difficult and emotionally taxing; without passion, it’s easy to believe you should give up. The more you engage with aspects of your business that you’re not passionate about, the less motivated you’ll be—and the more wasted your time will feel.)

3. Unnecessarily Expending Energy Is a Waste of Time

Sullivan and Hardy explain that making decisions and completing tasks costs energy, and when you’re low on energy you make poor decisions and achieve subpar results. When you hire a cook or an accountant, you reclaim the energy to make great decisions and produce excellent results in other areas. Maximize your own effectiveness by minimizing the number of decisions and tasks you handle personally—so you can focus all your energy where it’s most valuable.

(Shortform note: Bezos, Buffett, and Obama all agree that the fewer decisions you make each day, the better those decisions are. Each time you make a decision, your brain expends energy and focus. Furthermore, some researchers believe that making too many decisions in a row—particularly without breaks—leads to progressively less thoughtful decisions. To maximize the quality of your decisions, Bezos says, only make three high-impact decisions a day—ideally, before lunch.)

2. Personnel Create More Money, Faster

The second advantage to investing in personnel, the authors say, is that doing so optimizes your rate of income and expansion. According to the authors, investing in high-quality personnel kickstarts an ever-expanding cycle of growth for your business ventures.

Because you’ve invested in experts, the authors explain, you’re now efficiently producing stellar results, effectively elevating your business and validating your decision to hire experts. Your personnel will continue to optimize and improve the process they’re engaged in, generating better results faster and further improving your income. They won’t need your help to do it, so you’ll reclaim your time.

(Shortform note: Once you kickstart this cycle of growth, you’ll inevitably need to expand your team to keep up. Team growth can become difficult to handle; you’ll inevitably hit a stumbling block once your team grows to between 25 and 40 people. At this point, it becomes impossible for one leader to manage every employee or for each employee to see the whole picture. You’ll need to set up management structures and autonomous teams and change the way you communicate.) 

As for what to do with that time, Sullivan and Hardy explain that you personally generate the most revenue when you commit your time to generating revenue. In other words, hire personnel to free you from every possible task—from cleaning your house to buying your shoes—and instead prioritize tasks that make you money.

(Shortform note: You may take this as a recommendation to spend your reclaimed time working, but that’s not the case at all—when you work as much as you can, as most entrepreneurs do, you actually decrease your productivity. Instead, use your reclaimed time to rest more and maximize your ability to be creative and decisive: Aim to work a maximum of six hours a day, primarily in the mornings, and take frequent, small vacations. Doing so gives you time to clarify your vision and reignite your purpose—which, as an entrepreneur, is the most important part of your job.)

Don’t Save Money; Spend It to Solve Problems

As your resource pool increases, the authors suggest you continue to ask, “Who can solve this problem for me?” and don’t allow yourself to return to a cost-focused mindset. If you find yourself worrying about cost and feel tempted to stop spending so much money on personnel, remember that cost-effectiveness usually only causes more problems. Indeed, the authors explain that money is valuable primarily because you can spend it to solve problems. According to them, the optimal solution to any problem will always be the same: Find the right person to solve the issue and pay them to do so. Don’t do it yourself and don’t cheap out.

  • For example: If your sink clogs, you may be capable of fixing it—but you’re also capable of breaking it further. Investing in an expert plumber saves you time and prevents further damage.

(Shortform note: As Sullivan and Hardy point out, having money is useless; its value is determined by how you spend it. Research shows that one of the most valuable ways you can spend it is in improving your quality of life. When you can pay someone else to spend an hour hunched under your bathroom sink or staring at your emails, you get to spend that enjoying the blissful flow-state of doing what you do best or enjoy most, instead.)

3. Personnel Improve Your Relationships

The third advantage to investing in personnel is that doing so improves your relationships. We’ve discussed so far that investing in personnel saves you time, energy, and money—and you can spend those, the authors say, to develop deeper, more fulfilling relationships.

Investing in personnel isn’t just about hiring experts for your business—it’s also about investing your time and energy in mutually beneficial personal relationships. As you free up your time and accumulate resources, the authors explain, it’s natural to deepen your focus on personnel—on people—and the connections you make with them. In doing so, Sullivan and Hardy explain, you further your personal growth more quickly than you could alone.

(Shortform note: Psychologically speaking, connecting with others strengthens our emotional resilience and comfort with intellectual risk-taking—both of which benefit an entrepreneur—but Sullivan’s idea of “growth” is much more tangible. What he means is that if someone’s around to help you, you’ll learn skills much more quickly than you would alone.)

Sullivan and Hardy outline two ways to optimize your connections with others: Ensure you’re not approaching them transactionally, and engage wholeheartedly.

Give Generously, Not Transactionally

To really connect with others, the authors say, you must discard transactionality. In other words, stop thinking about what’s in it for you—let go of the cost mentality. When you always try to get more out of people than you give, Sullivan and Hardy explain, your relationships fall apart—you become a drain on the resources, time, and energy of others, and they don’t benefit from being around you. Instead, whether you’re attempting to connect personally or professionally, be generous and focus your attention on what you can give. For instance, ask yourself what you can do to improve the other person’s ability to achieve their goals. If you do, people will flock to you.

(Shortform note: In Drive, Daniel H. Pink elaborates that transactionality ruins relationships by boiling them down to a series of rewards and punishments. In short, not only will nobody you treat transactionally go above and beyond for you, they’ll intentionally give you their bare minimum. Why? Because you show them there’s no point in interacting with you unless you reward them for it.)

It’s especially important to be generous in your personal relationships, the authors note. If you have children, for example, you’re key “personnel” for them—your resources, knowledge, and attention are critical determinants of their success. When you invest generously in them, you dramatically improve their ability to achieve stellar outcomes in their lives. When you don’t, you do irreparable harm to their chances of success, as well as to your relationship.

(Shortform note: Children provide a remarkable return on investment—financially and emotionally. Just giving your child time and attention on a daily basis improves the quality of the relationships they build and seek, as well as their emotional well-being. An emotionally healthy child with a strong relational support network is primed for a happier, more financially stable future: Their better health outcomes save them money on healthcare and their improved learning outcomes lead to better employment opportunities.)

Engage Wholeheartedly or Don’t Engage at All

When you spend time with others—especially in your personal life—Sullivan and Hardy suggest, commit wholeheartedly to doing so. Your spouse won’t appreciate the time you spend together if you’re absent-mindedly thinking about work, and you won’t benefit from it either. That time will be wasted. To give yourself the best chance to deepen your connection, ensure you can be fully present and committed.

(Shortform note: Wholeheartedness is similar to what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow”: a state in which you’re so immersed in an experience that you let go of everything outside of it. According to him, flow is an optimal state that allows a degree of engagement and connection that’s otherwise impossible—we’re entirely present, so we don’t miss anything about the moment. What Sullivan’s suggesting is that you give your loved ones this degree of focus.)

If someone gives you their all, commit to them. Sullivan and Hardy explain that as you continue investing in people—professionally and personally—you start to see who stands out, elevating your business and life. Give those people your best, the authors say; wholeheartedly support and uplift them. You’ll get their best in return, and build meaningful, mutually impactful relationships.

(Shortform note: In addition, Fintech program director Sar Haribhakti suggests that the skills you learn from helping others are just as valuable as the connections you make. When you take every opportunity you can to make those around you more successful, he says, you end up in situations you’d otherwise never explore. The insights you gain while outside your comfort zone may lead you to new entrepreneurial opportunities or help you break into unexplored fields.)

However, even if you have the capacity to take them on, Sullivan and Hardy warn, only say “yes” to people or projects you’re wholeheartedly excited to work with and are the right person for. Doing so ensures that your time, energy, resources, and attention remain focused in the direction that best suits your purpose and goals.

(Shortform note: Many entrepreneurs advocate for following your heart and doing what excites you because that engagement motivates you to drive forward. Billionaire Richard Branson says that the goal of entrepreneurship is to turn what excites you into capital so that you can do more of it—if what you’re doing isn’t fun, he says, you should probably be doing something else.)

4. Personnel Optimize Your Purpose

The fourth advantage of investing in personnel is that doing so improves your purpose: how valuable your investments of time and resources are and how much you can accomplish.

Collaboration Generates Meaning and Value

We do our best when we feel that our decisions and behaviors—and our investment of resources and time—have meaning and value, or purpose. Purpose, the authors explain, is what pushes us to give our best—regardless of the job or task. We want the outcome of our investments to have an impact, somehow, on something.

(Shortform note: Many organizations try to cultivate their employees’ passion instead of their purpose, but for the rank-and-file, passion is a poor motivator. In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport explains that most people, throughout their lives, learn that fulfillment comes from feeling passionate about your work. As a result, passion-seeking employees are unable to cope with boring or frustrating aspects of their jobs—they think the work is pointless or not right for them because it doesn’t inspire passion 100% of the time. However, if you cultivate your employees’ sense of purpose and make the point of their work clear, they’ll feel motivated to push through the difficult realities of their work, even if they don’t feel passionate about it.)

According to Hardy and Sullivan, purpose comes from collaboration. It’s difficult to find a truly great purpose alone—after all, there’s only so much you can do with the limited time and resources you have. That’s where the power of personnel comes in: When we work together, the quality and impact of our combined result improves—and, thereby, the value of that result. Because of this, collaborating with others deepens our sense of meaning and fulfillment—it’s empowering to be a member of a group that’s large enough to accomplish something truly valuable.

(Shortform note: According to one Harvard Business School professor, a sense of purpose through collaboration has myriad benefits: Feeling you’re part of something greater than yourself leads to high levels of engagement and creativity and a willingness to partner with others regardless of boundaries. In other words, joint purpose encourages your team to willingly step out of their comfort zone in pursuit of meaningful goals.)

The authors note that as you reach for ever-higher goals together, your vision of what’s possible grows. Your shared sense of purpose expands, as does your trust in each other. Once you realize how much you can accomplish with the right support, the authors suggest, you’ll gain confidence in your ability to make a powerful impact. You’ll feel increasingly invested in the people who helped bring your vision to life, and they’ll feel more invested in you—as a result, you become more committed to each other, and to the goals you share.

(Shortform note: It’s all well and good to hear that purpose expands your vision, or that investing in your team leads them to invest in you, but what’s the bottom line? CEO Mark Weinberger of EY says that between 1996 and 2011, companies who centered their purpose around social impact rather than financial outcomes outperformed the S&P 500 by 10 times.)

Purpose Is Amplified by Trust

As you grow into your role as a results-focused investor in people, the authors urge you to trust your team to do their jobs without your constant intervention. Trust amplifies your team’s feeling of purpose—it lets them know you believe they’re the right people for the job and that you trust them to find the best path to a stellar result. It’s a form of investment that forces them to invest, as well. Either they are the right person for the job, in which case they’ll see value and meaning in the autonomy you give them, or they’ll step aside so the right person can take over.

(Shortform note: Trust is critical to a successful autonomous structure, elaborates Paul Marciano of Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work. Trusted employees feel more comfortable taking ownership and pitching the risky ideas that lead to great innovations. To engender trust, he says, provide autonomy, decision-making authority, and resources without questioning your team’s loyalty.)

According to Sullivan and Hardy, leading in this fashion—providing opportunities for your team to face and overcome challenges autonomously—helps your team build the confidence and commitment they need to fulfill your vision and grow as people. The longer they work this way, the more capable they become—and the more you can trust them to handle. It amplifies your relationship with your team from transactional to transformational: You’re not just working for yourselves anymore; instead, everyone benefits meaningfully, so everyone’s willing to invest.

(Shortform note: Allowing your team autonomy doesn’t only help you meet your business needs—it also helps your team members meet their psychological needs. In his book High Output Management, former Intel CEO Andrew Grove explains that the most effective and lasting motivation is one that fulfills the human desire to achieve competence or mastery and contribute to a stellar result. By challenging your team and trusting them to produce excellent results, you give them opportunities to improve and overcome, effectively supporting them in their pursuit, as Grove would put it, of self-actualization.)

Leadership Supports Without Micromanaging

A great leader, Sullivan and Hardy say, builds an autonomous team by staying focused on the results he wants to achieve and minimizing his interference. This is what it means, they say, to “invest” in your team. According to them, you do this in four steps:

1) Communicate your vision and clearly define the desired outcome. (Shortform note: The importance of clarity is heavily corroborated in entrepreneurial literature. For example, in Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work, Paul Marciano explains that sharing the big picture with every employee is a powerful source of motivation. It lets your personnel feel like partners, and gives them context for the decisions you make.)

2) Invest in a team of people who are capable of accomplishing your goal. (Shortform note: On this point, Marciano provides additional advice: Regularly ask your team what else they need. Capable personnel still have needs, and they’ll know what would improve their outcomes—whether that’s resources, information, or training. It’s your responsibility to provide those things, or at least to make them available.)

3) Let your team figure out how to get there and do the work themselves. (Shortform note: The authors aren’t suggesting you build a team with no oversight or responsibility—they’re just saying you don’t need to provide it personally. On that note, Verne Harnish advocates assigning someone to be accountable for each process and function. In doing so, you promote responsibility and a clear hierarchy—everyone knows who to ask about each part of the system. Crucially, nobody should ever touch a system for which they’re not somehow accountable.)

4) Give consistent feedback and praise depending on the results, and don’t let your team give up. (Shortform note: Here’s some more detail on useful feedback from Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: First, feedback should be 80% positive and only 20% negative—this ensures personnel will be praised for what they do well and heightens the impact of criticism. Second, when you give criticism, be prepared to reinforce a change in behavior with immediate positive feedback. Third, when you see an opportunity to give feedback—praiseful or critical—do so immediately. If you wait, the impact is lost. Finally, assume any failure to meet your expectations is a result of your failure to communicate.)

Be a Paragon to Your People

The authors suggest that as you grow closer to your team and accomplish increasingly ambitious goals with their help, the most powerful purpose you can have is to be their paragon. Find out what their needs and goals are, and do everything you can to help them, care for them, and uplift them. In return, they’ll give you their best work, and, as we’ve seen, transform and expand your life. They’ll be proud to support a leader who supports them, and they’ll make it their purpose to enable you to continue that work.

(Shortform note: It may seem odd, from a cost-focused perspective, to hear that an entrepreneur’s ultimate purpose is to care for and uplift other people, but this argument is well-supported in entrepreneurial literature. For example, Marciano (Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work) calls this “consideration” and says it’s one of the seven keys to financial success. As he puts it, if the company doesn’t care about the employee, why should the employee care about the company?)

Who Not How Book Advice: Invest in Personnel

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Here's what you'll find in our full Who Not How summary:

  • Why you should stop trying to do everything yourself and just hire someone
  • Why minimizing cost should not be the primary goal
  • How you can reclaim your valuable time at work and home

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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