Hiring people is one of the most important responsibilities the startup CEO has, and yet many of us approach hiring in a way that’s not systematic, scalable, or scientific. We don’t follow best practices. Below are some best practices I’ve found for hiring and managing people in startups.
Offer one job title.
Give the new hire a very specific job title with clear deliverables. Encourage her to become expert in that area, no matter how simple the job. Ask her to craft policies and even create a manual for that job title as she goes. Now, when she gets promoted or moves on (and everyone does), you have the tools needed to train her replacement.
Many startups fall into the trap of asking new employees to have multiple titles at once. For example, they want a new hire to be community manager/QA Analyst/receptionist. Hydra job titles are bad for so many reasons: the new hire doesn’t know which area to focus on; she does each job poorly, becoming expert in none; she cannot leverage the title or skills for future jobs or promotions.
Over time, employees in knowledge-based work such as consulting or Internet companies should see the scope of their responsibilities narrow, not widen. Each employee should become an absolute expert in his or her realm, with increasing autonomy and power in that realm. To get there, they need to be laser focused from day one. They should read, write, and talk about their field, and employers should give them the time and tools to do so.
Don’t expect a perfect fit.
Like dating, if you have more than 5 requirements for the perfect candidate, your problem is you. Experience, cultural fit, and new ideas for your company are all overrated. Fit will come with time; the better someone knows your product and company, the better decisions they’ll make. Far more important in a startup are temperament, ability to communicate verbally and in writing, and technical skills (in that order).
Once you’ve found a pool of like-able, clear spoken, qualified people, the next step is to identify who has the willingness and the highest potential to thrive in the specific job title they’re being hired for.
Pick up the slack.
Of course it would be great to hire someone willing to do their job while also handling the more tedious tasks, leaving the founders free to do whatever it is they do best. Sadly, that’s a formula for failure. Founders should be doing all the grunt work that falls outside of their employees’ job scope, including answering the phone and getting the mail.
This grunt work is why founders work long hours and wear so many hats. It’s also why founders get a massively disproportionate share of the upside when their company goes public or gets acquired.