In our FlipZone module on Staffing, our subject matter experts provide insight into how to hire well. Poor hiring decisions could be fatal to an early stage company, because work not done well will usually have to be done twice. This costs time and money at a stage of the organization where both are precious.
One of the first things to do is to avoid hiring a “mini me”. In other words don’t hire someone just like you. You have you covered; what you need to cover is the part you cannot or will not do. How do we do this?
Industrial psychologists specialize in helping organizations find candidates who fit a personality profile that best suits a generally described position. They use a number of character attributes that can be assessed with a survey test and use the candidate’s scores on those attributes to produce a profile that can compared with a baseline associated with the position. For example, the best accountants have different personality profiles from the best sales people. These assessments can have 10 – 15 personality traits. There are pros and cons associated with these tools, and they are often somewhat pricey. When your company can afford them, they can provide helpful decision support.
Models such as the Birkman system map personality traits into a small number of categories. They compile the industrially relevant personality traits into a smaller number of bins, such as quadrants in a square. Early on it is critical to keep things simple, and our experts suggest two traits to consider: 1) hands-on versus delegator and 2) direct versus indirect communicator. Someone who is a direct communicator and hands-on can be thought of as a doer. Someone who is an indirect communicator and likes to delegate can be thought of as a strategist.
To avoid hiring the “mini me”, first identify where your personality lands along these two traits. Many technical entrepreneurs are direct and hands-on, while many from business backgrounds are direct and delegators. As you consider the opposite ends of each spectrum, you may find a substantial gap in your company’s wherewithal.
As you consider your hiring needs, consider your own placement on the spectra. Your sense of what your company most needs will be skewed by your own personality. If you have a strong personality bias, your sense of company needs could have a strong bias as well. Use your mentoring team or advisory board to help decide what type of person to hire. This can mitigate the influence of your own bias.
One common way to label the quadrants is doer, talker, counter and strategist. The doers are direct and hands-on; talkers are direct and delegators; counters are indirect and hands-on; and strategist are indirect and delegators. One strategy for early stage companies is to fill the direct boxes with hires, and cover the indirect boxes with vendors. For example, you can contract with an accounting firm and a marketing firm, but hire in the sales people and engineers.
Culture is important as well, as are deadlines. Be sure as you interview candidates to assess their working style and commitment. When the going gets tough, you don’t want your staff to go shopping. In the interview, emulate portions of the culture that are most critical. For example, if it is an intense work environment, make an intense interview. Don’t mask the environment; be sure to hire someone who wants to be there.
Also, ask questions about work history in the context of demonstrations of commitment. Set a framework and ask the candidate to tell a story. When the candidate speaks freely, you can get the best sense of the underlying character. For example, you could say something like “As a small company, we often have to wear several hats -sometimes not those of our core strengths – and work together in a long day from time to time to complete work for a customer. Tell me about a time when you had to work in a small group for a long day to accomplish something.” The candidate should understand what you are driving at and you have given over the reins to tell the story.
Hiring is a crucial component of success. ITEN recently held a number of excellent seminars at Venture Café on hiring practices. SCORE and others provide seminars as well, all speaking to the importance of hiring and team. There is an adage that 90% of success is about execution. Execution is about team, and team is about hiring.