Once you’ve hired some terrific people, your next job is to hang on to them. Even in tough economic times, that’s getting harder, not easier. No one assumes any longer that they’ll spend most of their career at the same place. And employees no longer commit to companies. They commit to other people, and people change and swap gigs all the time.
So how can you keep the stars (and the rest of the troops) happy, healthy and motivated?
Make room for people - even the odd ones
You need to make room for all kinds of people, because talent comes in lots of different sizes, shapes and packages. We want the talent, but we aren’t always willing to understand that people tend to be package deals. Some people like to work all night; some don’t especially care to bathe; some are insufferable and brilliant at the same time. If you want to build a great company, you need to make room for these people and run interference for them.
Too often, entrepreneurs hire staff that look, act and talk like them. This never works beyond the first few employees. You need all kinds of people - even people just looking for a job - as long as they’re willing to do their work and do it as well as they can. Your employees don’t have to love each other or go bowling every Thursday night. They just all need to show up and do their jobs. Everything else is gravy.
Nail the details
You need to do a few administrative things right away.
Define each new person’s job and the reporting hierarchy.
Explain your expectations. Tell people what you’re trying to accomplish and what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to accomplish it. Make sure that everyone has signed up for the same trip.
Establish the criteria that will be used to measure and evaluate success. Confirm in writing that everyone understands these criteria.
Value Quality Over Quantity
Exactly how much you can demand from your staff is a slippery slope. It’s great to have high expectations, and to ask your people to work insane hours and move mountains -- as long as you never ask them to do anything that you wouldn’t do yourself, and as long as you’re working just as hard as they are. Keep in mind that getting the most work out of people doesn’t necessarily you’re getting their best work. Lots of people learn how to keep busy. The trick is to get things done, and get them done right. Not all movement is progress.
Forget all this bullshit that every idea is a good one. Plenty of ideas just suck. Pretending that every idea is possible or worthy of consideration and discussion, and trying to always be politically correct or constructive in your criticism, is a formula for failure. And people who come up with great ideas get justifiably frustrated when they see lousy ideas getting just as much attention. It doesn’t help to lie to people or give them false encouragement or hope. Hurt feelings, bruised egos, and skinned knees are all part of the growth process, and critical to it.
Finally, your people are very important, but don’t lose sight of the main chance. The name of the game is to create great products and services and to build a company that will last. It’s not about making people feel good about themselves and loved. Leave that to the clergy.
Most of the world’s great products and businesses, as well as most of the great inventions throughout history, were ultimately the result and expression of a single, uncompromising vision - albeit a vision that was managed, massaged, and manipulated through a sea of change, confusion and compromise.
That’s your job: Define, defend and drive the vision. Great ideas can attract people, but ultimately it’s something bigger - ideals - that keeps them together. We all want to be working for something that’s bigger than ourselves.
HOWARD A. TULLMAN is the CEO of 1871 – Where Digital Startups Get Their Start and the General Managing Partner of G2T3V, LLC and of Chicago High Tech Investment Partners. He is a member of the Chicago NEXT & Cultural Affairs Councils and the Illinois Innovation & Arts Councils; an adjunct professor at Kellogg; and an advisor to many start-ups. He is the former Chairman and CEO of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy. Over the last 45 years, he has successfully founded more than a dozen high-tech companies. @tullman @tullman