So many articles, books and conference panels shout the same message over and over to you . . . "people are your most valuable asset". Though I find this statement to be generally true, I also find it vague, trite and frankly uninspiring especially when it comes to hiring.

Regardless of whether you are a newly minted manager hiring for the first time, or that startup CEO who is putting your initial team together, you will be judged and your business will depend on the people that you hire. The clich "you are only as strong as your weakest player" is never more apparent in a small startup team.

During my career of managing small (2-4 person teams) to large (> 300 employees) organizations, this clich would ring through my head every day. Jack Welch would have you force rank your team and remove the bottom 10% or 20% with the goal of consistently upgrading your team. Some call this rank-and-yank.

This thinking may work when you have the ability to turn over staff without paralyzing your team, but the focus is still on the management of your team. What about the hiring of your team? I find it surprising that most hiring managers run the same playbook that everybody else is running when they begin the recruiting process.

If you are simply relying on interviewing a bunch of candidates and choosing the one candidate that makes you feel good/right/inspired/comfortable/fill-in-with-a-word, you have already lost the opportunity for something great.

Too many times, I see a process where a relatively generic job description is written, some social media, email and job board outreach is activated, and then a series of interviews with a final candidate selected. What's wrong with that process?

Great hires are made when you uncover great people. As a hiring manager, you have one goal and one goal only--hire the greatest person you can find.

Great people typically don't operate within the confines of that process I just laid out. In order to widen your recruiting funnel, you must focus your energies on these two themes:

  1. Great hires don't fit inside traditional boxes. I liken this thought to a GM of a football team that can draft the best wide receiver available, or draft the best athlete available. In all of my startup hiring, I have always opted for the best athlete, as they will be able to drive success regardless of the role or their current skillset(s). Hire the best social media marketer and then discover that social media marketing for customer acquisition has run its course and you are left with one-trick pony that is now a burden to the company. Invariably the business changes as it matures and you need people who can change with it.
  2. Great hires cannot typically be found through traditional recruiting channels. You must utilize alternative/non-standard channels to uncover great people. Personal references are my go-to recruiting tool and I lean heavily on my network to uncover diamonds in the rough. There are two key elements here. First, you must be aggressive with your network. Second, you must frame what you want without creating too narrow of a description. For example, I might tell my network that I am looking for someone who is curious, or someone who loves to solicit feedback on their ideas, or someone who loves to learn new skills and is self-taught. These traits may lend themselves to the type of person I want.

The one lesson you must take from this? Find unique and broad ways to set a high bar to hire great people. Your business will benefit from this thinking for a long time.

Published on: Jan 5, 2016