A go-getter, a jack-of-all-trades, a generalist, utility player employees are the lifeblood of startups. Just like in sports, utility players in business aren't the ones inking the big money contracts, but their value extends well beyond their price tag.

These go-getter employees are working on making their careers and don't come with a big money contract, something as a founder/CEO you can't afford. The relationship between a utility player and founder/CEO is symbiotic.

Utility players are great because they can multitask, do almost anything that is asked of them, and they tend to have infectious personalities that propel the team and company forward. Their success is due to work ethic; attitude and a desire to see the team as a whole succeed.As a founder or CEO, hiring the #2 or #3 candidate because they have these skills will propel the business forward unlike if you hired the #1 candidate.

Again, look at the parallel in sports. Versatile, utility players often are the difference between a winning season and a losing one.

In the early days of a company it's natural, even expected, for one person to do five jobs. This is tailor made for utility players who by default understand a lot about the company. In a startup, they are often there from day one and have lots of tribal knowledge. As founder/CEO you rely on a utility player to help guide the company. As a result, this person can become a cultural symbol for the company.

However, unlike in sports, utility players in business eventually have to specialize. And, it can be very painful for a small to midsize company to wrestle with a utility player's role in this transitional phase of the company's evolution. As a founder or CEO if you don't pay attention to the progression and evolution of your utility player, it can become a very disruptive, emotional situation. I made this error at my first company and nearly broke a few relationships.

As the CEO of a small growing company, it's your job to identify how to bring the team, including that utility player, along in a way that works for everyone. When I hire utility players I give them a glimpse of this reality very early in the relationship. I encourage them to explore different areas, but council them that every month they need to move toward a "major." We talk about these things regularly and I try to push them toward roles in which I think they are best suited and can succeed.

Utility players are great for companies but be mindful of where the relationship is going so that both the company and the employee can benefit. Don't leave that utility player to get sidelined because he or she didn't eventually specialize.

Published on: Feb 19, 2015