Hiring your Team.

Building a successful organization starts at the beginning – with the people who you hire and trust to drive your organization to the next level. Deciding how you go about hiring your team members, what skills they should have, and how to integrate them into your company can be a real challenge.

Anyone who tries to sell you a special formula that looks years in advance and prescribes who to hire when is crazy. There is no magic formula. Your business is growing and changing. With it – the people are growing and changing. You may think you have a good grasp on what will happen next; however, businesses that plan too far in the future have always been challenged by their lack of flexibility in the present.

You may disagree, but consider this:

  • your business may need to pivot. Today you’re focused on B2B sales — tomorrow you’re selling to the education market.
  • let’s not forget about how a global pandemic greatly rocked the business world and caused some of the largest organizational pivots of all times.

Your business is going to change. Your organization is going to change. The people in your organization will change. Each new person you bring in adds to (or challenges) existing dynamics (we’re talking culture here – more on that to come in future posts).

I want to continue to reinforce to you – it’s through your actions (or inactions) that your business will either scale, or won’t. Your ability to be reactive, proactive, flexible, structured, nimble, and descriptive all at once will enable you to deliver compounding success.

Let’s talk about four actionable areas where you can start making a difference when it comes to hiring your team:

  1. deciding which positions to hire and when,
  2. the hiring process,
  3. onboarding new hires, and
  4. integrating new hires into your team.

Many elements of hiring and personnel are situational to a company. As we walk through hiring, I will share some situations that aim to mirror (or come close to mirroring) your individual company. If you don’t see yourself directly here, that’s okay. There really is no “one size fits all” for hiring.

Variation is okay and encouraged. Flexibility is key. You need to mold and adapt to your organization’s cultural and the environment around you.

I can’t stress this enough. Uniqueness is what makes your organization what it is today.

That said – there are lessons to be learned and what you can do to maximize your return.

Remember – people are often our biggest expense, but let’s change that moving forward: People are our greatest investment.

Hiring takes time and you should be ready to devote time to it (people are an investment). I’ve interviewed (and received offers) for jobs were the total interview time was 30 minutes. It blew my mind that after 30 minutes someone would think I have the skills and culture fit to be successful at the company and add value. On the flip side, I’ve had interview processes drag on for 6-8 weeks with multiple interviews over that period. I started thinking – what are we doing here? My time is valuable, your time is valuable, we need to come to a decision.

There’s no magic answer for how long it should take. If your gut says it’s working out and it’s been a “short” time – have someone check your work and make the offer. If you’ve been going months through a process and haven’t made a decision – something is wrong. You’re either a “no” on the candidate and unwilling to make that call, or your process is broken (or both).

One overarching note before we dive into the specifics: move fast. Good candidates won’t wait and decisions shouldn’t be hard. If you’re on the fence about a candidate — it’s a “no.” Seriously – it’s a no. You should be easily convinced they are “the one.” Like I noted above – respect the candidate’s time and they’ll respect yours. If it’s not going well, be honest and cut it off. Don’t hide behind a corporate theory that you’re going to wait until you’ve made an offer to someone else and then not tell the other candidates until your new hire arrives. Be transparent with candidates from the start. You will want the same level of transparency in return.

When to Hire

I’m a big fan of the Basecamp’s philosophy:

Hire When It Hurts

You need to decide the threshold for the pain your company is feeling. Do you stay awake countless nights unsure of one thing: how you, and your small team, are going to handle the massive growth your company is facing right now?

It has to hurt – and it has to hurt bad before you bring on your next employees. Every new person you bring into your impacts the core and foundation of who you are (as a company), what you do (and don’t do), and how you get it all done.

Strategic hiring is key. If you’re expanding into new markets, changing a product line, or venturing into the unknown; don’t hire right away. You should invest time yourself, or via advisors/existing employees, to shape the path and define success. If you go in blind, you’re in for an uphill battle. Through feeling the pain of exploring and knowing exactly what you need you can begin to understand the person you’d bring in to fill the role.

The hiring process can be overwhelming, time consuming, and exhausting. As I stated earlier, take what you find below and customize it for your organization. You may find your organizational culture weighs heavier in one element of the hiring process than others.

The Hiring Process

Let’s take a few minutes to talk about process here (the second “P”). We’re starting with people because they’re the most important part of our organization. Process comes next as our people create, follow, and destroy (yes destroy) the processes in our organization. The right processes at the right time can have exponential returns on our ability to scale. The wrong processes can destroy any chance we had.

For now when we’re talking about the hiring process, we’re not talking tools – there are plenty of tools to assist you with running hiring pipelines, evaluating, etc. I’m talking about the people-side of the process you will take your future employees through to determine if you will hire them.

There are several great models for hiring out there: Amazon has the bar raiser test; Netflix hires for talent density; and when I was at Socrata we used a standard’s bearer test.

Here’s the key: each of these companies had a methodology they used to determine whether the person sitting in front of them (or virtually in front of them) has what it takes to scale the organization.

Before you walk into a hiring decision, your company should have a solid understanding of how you’ll make decisions — before you’re looking at candidates in front of you. You’re going to go through a process (akin to what I outline below), but at the end of the process comes a decision. You need to map out how you’ll make a decision up front. Will you have a standard’s bearer who can veto a candidate who doesn’t align to the values of the company? Will you defer the sole hiring decision to the hiring manager (not recommended)? Or something else.

Whatever you decide – decide it upfront and stick to it. You’re going to end up in a losing situation if you change course mid-hiring process and abandon the way you make decisions. (Pivoting the process itself is something else that may be done for the right reasons, of which there are many.)

A good starting point is to ask: how will they add value to our company? (It’s the same question I ask myself when I look for new opportunities — how will I add value to this organization?) If you can’t answer that, then you shouldn’t be hiring them.

When it comes to interviews, there are two primary elements that you should evaluate candidates for: skill and culture.

Evaluating for Skill

It’s as simple as it seems — can they do the job.

The stagnate company, the one who won’t scale will say a simple: yes, they’re qualified and has the required skill to meet what we need.

The scaling company goes well beyond that, often embodying some of the philosophies of Amazon or Netflix. Not only does this candidate have the skills to do this job, they will make us better at what we are doing. Amazon would say: each new hire needs to be above average for where we are today; the bar we have for our employees is constantly going up with each new hire — raising the bar each time.

Start your hiring process with interviewing for skill. Often times it’s easier to test for skill and you can quickly weed out people without the skills you need for the position. This can take many forms – written test, automated computer tests, oral assessments, etc. It all depends on the role.

As I noted above, move quickly. Those who don’t pass the skills tests – move on. And do the right thing here — tell them that you’re moving on quickly. There’s no need to drag it out. They are people making decisions on their future (just as much as you’re making a decision for your company’s future).

I’ll caveat this with – if someone is a legit fit for another position, pass them over to the other team and let them evaluate from there. Company’s do a horrible job sharing resumes, interview notes, etc. No one trusts anyone and it always comes off as an internal competition. Frankly I never understood those companies. It should always be is: what is the best for the company. If this candidate is best for the company but wasn’t best for your role – do the right thing and see it through for the right role.

Back to interviewing for skill; target about twenty percent of the total interview time. That’s how much you should spend on skills assessment (unless the role is highly process oriented or a repeatable/transactional role — than spend a bit more time). You need to define how much time you’re going to invest in the person and that should relate to the value they’ll add back to the company.

Two quick examples on this.

A window washer will add value; however, it’s a very transactional role. There is only so much a window washer will be able to do to scale your organization. Yes, if you’re a window washing company and the candidate can wash 2x as many windows as another, that’s great — however, there’s a max they’ll hit.

A software developer on the other hand can add a lot of value in an organization and is highly investable. A great software developer can help automate processes, reduce waste, and enable a company to scale.

The remaining time is spent on culture.

Evaluating for Culture

This is where the rubber meets the road; it’s also the hardest part to evaluate in an interview.

Remember what we said above, if you’re on the fence, it’s a no. That holds true here now more than ever.

The most common mistakes in evaluating for culture are discounting the red flags and playing them off as something else. They’re not something else; they’re red flags. If you’re not bold enough to act on them — your company is going to be crushed when it tries to battle them during employment.

So many organizations bring on the wrong people. The sad part is they knew they were bad going in; however, there was some underlying feeling they’d overcome the short fallings.

How companies evaluate for culture is often a very gut feeling (as much as HR doesn’t like to hear it — it is). More and more companies are leaning towards a value-driven approach to hiring. That is, how does the candidate’s views align to our values as an organization.

Let’s walk through an example (remember, you customize for your organization).

After passing the skills evaluation, the candidates should meet with a series of employees (yes – multiple) and be evaluated for alignment to the organization’s values. (More on defining organizational values when we talk about culture.)

Each of the employees should look for one or two values to gauge alignment on a simple scale: high, medium, or low. Just because someone has a low alignment to a particular value doesn’t rule them out (thought it is a discussion point for sure). High alignments across the board are fantastic.

Let’s take one of Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principals:

Are Right, A Lot Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.

An interviewer may ask something like: “Tell me how you brought in outside perspectives into your decision making process on a recent project. How did you know to trust or not not trust the perspective shared with you?” It’s simple but gives you something to start peeling back. It should be inviting them to share a story – and related to the role they applied for at your company.

Right after an interview ends (and schedule time for this), the employee should promptly document the interview results:

  1. How did the candidate align to the value being evaluated? High, Medium, or Low.
  2. Narrative to document the reason (this is also useful for the upcoming discussion to refer back to).
  3. Should we hire this candidate? Yes or No.

I respect some people need to reflect on the interview and think about it how to interpret how it went. I promote capturing initial thoughts immediately after the interview, including value alignment (#1) and narrative (#2). The employee should complete the full evaluation by the end of the day/next morning at the latest.

Once everyone has interviewed the candidate (hopefully in a 1/2 day or full day session) and document their feedback, it’s time to make a decision.

Making the Hiring Decision

After the interviews are completed, the hiring manager brings everyone together for a discussion, going around the room to share the cultural evaluation (remember – they already passed the skills evaluation and we’re only focused on culture now), and decision to hire/no-hire. This should be done the next day while the interview is still fresh in everyone’s minds.

To recap, your schedule should look something like this:

  1. Skills interviews
  2. Decision to move on to cultural interview
  3. Cultural interviews (ideally in one day — more senior roles over two days)
  4. Decision meeting the following day.

In the decision meeting, if it’s a “no” all around, you’ve come to a decision and it’s time to move on to the next candidate. Do the right thing and tell the candidate promptly — there’s no need to revisit.

Quick side note on why not to revisit. When you end up revisiting, most of the time the group is going back to justify a “yes” when they know it’s a “no.” I’d argue you’re a “no” at this point and there’s nothing good that will come from changing your minds. That includes if upper management comes back and says to hire — you were a “no.” You should be able to clearly articulate to your management why it’s a “no;” because that’s the culture your company embodies.

On the other hand, If it’s a “yes” all around, great! Let’s push this one step forward: the scaling company will take time now to help identify the growth areas for the new employee and how you will ensure they are successful when they arrive (more on employee development in future writings). Congrats! You have yourself a new employee. Call the new hire up and share the good news!

Most of the times though, it’s a mix of yes’s and no’s. The group needs to have a candid discussion that closely examines the strengths and challenges the candidate would bring to the organization. All the cards have to be put on the table — remember, company comes first (over departments and individual needs).

You need to go back to the decision making process you outlined even before you started going down this path. What was it that you held true and what does it mean now that you’re at that decision point?

If after a productive discussion with those around the table the decision is still unclear, then it’s a “no.” If a measurable part of the team believes that it’s a no-hire, something is going on. End the process and go on to the next candidate.

Don’t take the bait and try to do a follow-on interview. You are now highly biased and the questions you ask (and the answers you hear) will only point towards the decision you’re looking for in the end. Don’t do this. You need to stand behind your process and move on.

In the end of hiring…

you will have a new team and refined understanding of what it means to hire.

Will you miss on some possible good hires? Yes, you might. Will you find the perfect employee? You should.

Desperation to hire will result in a bad culture in your organization. You are making educated and informed decisions to advance your company forward, to scale.

Takeaways from: Hiring your Team

  1. Don’t just hire to hire; know why you’re hiring and what the employee will do to add value to your organization.
  2. Have a plan on how you’ll make hiring decisions – what will your organization value most. Don’t change course mid-hiring cycle.
  3. Spend ~20% of time hiring evaluating for skill and the remainder on evaluating for culture.
  4. There are no “maybe’s” in hiring – there is only “yes” or “no.” If you’re on the fence – it’s a “no.”
  5. Don’t revisit “no’s” or offer follow-up interviews. Bias has set in and you’re not going to succeed in a positive hire.
  6. Capture areas of growth for new employees based on the interviews.

Now that you have your future employee hired, what comes next is a critical part to their success and yours: onboarding. Next time we’ll dive into that and more when we discuss building the team.

To be continued.