When you’re starting up, finding the right talent is one of the toughest but most important parts of growth. Most founders will tell you that the first 15 people you hire will determine where your brand goes and how fast it will get there. Hiring, therefore, is the most effective way to keep your eye on your growth target and aim with precision. Here, I share some of my learnings about hiring and what to do once your organization evolves to a point where you, as a founder, can no longer focus on the daily tasks but must instead devote your time to thinking, analyzing, and nurturing. As you inevitably reach that juncture in time when you ask yourself, “What kind of talent do I need to hire?” Let these principles guide you.
Hire for someone’s potential, not for their track record.
The status quo of hiring can be a little problematic. You’re handed a hundred resumes and looking at someone’s past to determine if they should be part of your company’s future. While this may make sense in theory, it’s not the best way to solve for results-driven talent acquisition.
Instead, look at the potential a new hire can bring to your company. Of course, don’t discount their previous successes, but in the pursuit of growth, evaluate what someone can bring in rather than what he has already brought in during his earlier roles. Why, you ask? The value proposition of hiring a new employee should be measured against where your company will be 12, 18, even 24 months down the line. Someone hired at Series C for Series C skills will become redundant once you’ve reached Series D. Therefore, in order to break the barriers of scale, think to the future rather than now. This way, you’re hiring for your company’s tomorrow and ensuring that the new employee and his role don’t become obsolete by the time they’ve joined and sunk their teeth in.
Out with the old and in with the new: Job descriptions no longer work, success documents do.
It’s easy to compile a list of tasks that you expect your new hire to complete. A job description exists for the current state of affairs of a job, but what will this role look like once you’ve got more customers on board, hired more employees, covered more ground, and need to execute more tasks? The role, much like the company, will evolve. Your new hire needs to be prepared for that.
Each job’s success document should answer one pertinent question: What does success mean in this particular role? There is always the generic framework (increase sales by x percent, deploy marketing campaigns, and so and so forth), but each job has a success parameter which needs to be identified prior to sourcing potential hires. From a recruiting perspective, this helps you keep your sights on someone’s potential, not their present.
If you think you can’t afford it, you’re likely to pay in the long-run.
Often times, founders postpone hiring due to budget constraints. They continue to perform daily tasks while simultaneously managing the firm’s growth, which, they soon find out, is no easy feat. If your excuse for delaying hiring is that you can’t afford to bring someone new on board right now, you’re only doing you and your company a disservice as you’re inhibiting expansion.
Think about this economically: there’s only so far you can push yourself to reach peak fulfillment. Once you’ve hit that point, it’s all downhill from there. Doing and thinking require different kinds of minds and opportunities, so it’s best to employ everybody’s capabilities to their fullest extent rather than splitting your pants with two feet on either side of the road. Hire earlier to predict growth better (and prevent yourself from burning out).
Think of knowledge, skills, and capability when hiring.
We all know we should hire “competent” people, but what does “competency” really mean? Don’t let yourself get lost in the definition. Divide the term into three main categories: knowledge, skills, and capability.
Typically, knowledge and skills are specific to a person’s expertise and field (healthcare, finance, tech, etc.) but capabilities are more far-reaching, such as problem-solving or even hustling. In all likelihood, as a founder, you’re comfortable hiring people based on their knowledge and skills. After all, these parameters are easily validated and accessible. In about ten minutes, you can assess whether someone knows what they claim to know and do what they claim to do. However, it gets trickier when you’re trying to evaluate capability.
Let’s look at an example to make things easier to comprehend. While Java as a coding language can be denoted as a skill, programming is a capability. If you switch over from Java, to say C++, a good programmer can pick up the new skill quickly and with ease. With this in mind, think of capabilities as scalable, whereas skills as effective only in the present. You can apply this model to just about any skill versus capability comparison. Again, shift your focus to someone’s potential to milk the most out of their skills and knowledge.
Hiring is not a reactive process, but a proactive one.
At the beginning of your startup journey, you’re likely to hire from your network of friends and family. However, once you reach Series A and B, it’s time to start looking for those with potential who can help you build your firm’s culture. This is the moment in time to identify and mould your environment — for success, behavior, and more.
Moreover, once you grow, take some time to ask yourself: I hired X in Series A, do I need more of what they bring to the table? Do we need something to balance his behaviors out? Evaluate the values, capabilities, and qualities they’ve brought in and identify what you’ll need six months down the line. The key is in how well you plan for the future.
Keep in mind that in the future as you scale and grow, you won’t want everyone to fulfill the roles your previous hires do or once did. Some roles will be maintenance roles, and that’s okay. Those are important jobs too. Ensure you have a clear distinction of the kind of roles that you need and you’ll be good to go.
You will eventually need an HR department. Don’t fight it.
Once you find yourself spending 20 to 25 percent of your time on sourcing hires and managing internal operations (payroll, compliances, and conflicts between employees), you’re exhausting too much of your effort that can be dedicated to other, more crucial parts of your job. At this point in time, it is best to hire an expert to help you source potential hires and lead you from Series A to and through Series D and E. This way, you can do more with your time.
While this does not mean you shouldn’t be conducting interviews or taking final decisions, it will definitely save you time when it comes to identifying talent. Another effective method of sourcing hires is through your existing talent pool. The best hires tend to come through your existing talent’s network and referrals, so utilize your resources to their maximum potential. Ignite the domino effect.
Some quick insights:
- Identify and really understand what behaviors you do and do not want to hire. This will give you greater decision-making strength when hiring.
- Remember, this is your company. Therefore, spend as much time as you need talking to potential hires to figure out what makes them tick, whether they’ll be a good fit, what drives them, how they spend the first hour at the office, if they like their coffee strong. Ask the important questions.
- Does your company promote an environment of success? It’s important to set your hires up for success; empower your potential employees with enough opportunity and information to thrive in their roles.
- There is no longer an internal and external brand, there is only one, cohesive front-facing entity. With the advent of websites like LinkedIn and Glassdoor, your internal employees shape your external facets. Therefore, make the firm’s socials, and thereby branding, everybody’s responsibility
- Hire For Capability And Behaviors Vs Skill: Narayan Thammaiah, Chief People Officer At Accel