As a business grows, its team gets really busy, which is the case at FairWarning since our founding. Anyone who has hired people knows that there is a tendency to make “hires of convenience” when you have limited time. If you don’t watch out, you literally hire the first person in front of you that has a chance to fill the role you need. The problem is, success rates in hiring are challenging enough when you hire right, and the success rates go way down when you make “hires of convenience.”
Undoing a bad hire can take months, over a year, and sometimes multiple years because it takes time to discover and accept that your new hire is underperforming, and then implement a plan to get on track, offer remedial training, etc. The worst condition is when as a leader your new hire does the job just well enough for you to look the other way. You keep the person because you have no one else available to do the job better and you don’t want to go through the hassle of a corrective plan or conduct another candidate search. These are all real dynamics in a growing business.
In my experience, having the discipline and leadership training to keep an intense focus on “making great hires” is the best way to keep a business growing relatively seamlessly and is best for all parties involved, including the candidates.
Here are some best practices about “making great hires” I’ve learned over the years as a Founder of fast-growing companies:
Upside. My number one hiring rule is to hire candidates with “upside systemically”. Our business is growing, and we need people that want to grow with us and can keep up. Is there “upside” in hiring this candidate? Do they have demonstrated talent and drive that shows they will over time outperform the role they are initially hired for, and go on to do bigger things at FairWarning? Or are they destined to perform at the same level they have been, and our business needs will outgrow them quickly?
Motivation. In sports, you can’t teach height, and you can’t teach speed. In business, you can’t teach motivation. Growing a business means you must have a company full of people who are motivated to learn and grow – people who are intrinsically wired to improve continually. As a leader, my belief is that if I pour a lot of energy into motivating a mediocre performer there can gain a maximum of a 15 % temporary improvement, but it will not be a sustained improvement. As a leader, if you hire people who are not inherently motivated, the day will come when you find yourself trekking up the mountain with nobody in sight behind you.
One more thing about motivated hires, once you have them, cherish them, they are pushing internally harder than they may ever show, and you may ever know.
Authentic. Does the candidate’s narrative about their beliefs, life, and career match their resume and results they are producing? Or are they great at telling a story about themselves? A story they probably even believe, but it doesn’t match their discipline, motivation-level, behaviors, loyalties and actual results. Inauthentic people are the very worst hires because as Peter Thiel points out in “Zero to One,” so many corporate professionals have learned to “signal” that they do work but, don’t do much work at all.
A Day Together. Is the candidate interesting? Fun? Personable? Insightful? How would I feel finding out that we had to spend a full day together, pretty excited or terrified? Is this a person that would be great to work with? Or are they someone that people might avoid in the hallway or even go another direction, so they don’t have to bump into them? If you hire a company full of people who are no fun to work with, dysfunction will break out because people literally don’t talk to each other.
Raise the Bar. Does the candidate raise the bar on intellect at FairWarning as well as competency in their workgroup? Or are they lowering the bar, or keeping it the same? Staying the same isn’t good enough because we continue to grow. A favorite criterion is – was the candidate promoted in their previous positions?
Belief. Does the candidate believe in the mission of FairWarning and is able to offer specifics on why it is important to them? Ideally, they have life experiences that helped them conclude our work is important. We actually care about the work we do at FairWarning and believe we are making the world a better place by protecting and growing trust between care providers and their patients, and doing the same between financial services companies and their customers. Trust is the very fabric of civilized society, and FairWarning plays an important role in building trust. We want to work with like-minded people.
Having the discipline to “make great hires” is hard learned, but it is the right thing for everyone involved and is rewarding all around when you build a business around this principle.
Kurt J. Long