How to hire the people you need when you need them

Image using Bikablo by Melissa Rosenthal

In my recent article “Why does your company exist?” I wrote about establishing and communicating a clear purpose for your team.

Now it’s time to turn our minds to the second of the 5P’s of Fast Growth Leadership — People.

The earliest efforts in a new venture are, naturally enough, focused on building great products that are adored by customers — and staying as lean as possible while doing it. Assuming that you’re able to build and sell those products, the time will come where you need more people to help you achieve your growth aspirations. The “right” time to start hiring will depend heavily on your business model and what it is that you need to realize scale— there is no easy answer but there are some questions to help you think through the exciting (and potentially expensive) decision to add more people to your team.

1. Why do you need more people right now?

When it comes to scaling up your team, it’s worth thinking about exactly what the problem is. Are you ready to do something that no one in your current team knows how to do? Or is everyone in the team just so busy that you don’t have the capacity to get everything done? Or both? It might sound like stating the obvious but it’s important to understand why you need more people so that you can find the right ones.

2. What do you think your future looks like?

It’s worth taking some time to look at what you think your team might need to look like over time. What skills and capabilities are you missing today? And what do you think you might need tomorrow?

This process — often referred to as “people mapping” — means building a picture of the number of people with particular skillsets that you’re likely to need 6 months from now, 12 months on, 2 years from now, etc. And thinking about how they will likely work in relation to each other — in other words, your structure.

It’s called people mapping because it should map to your strategy.

Of course, it is almost impossible to accurately predict your people map for 2 years from now. Having said that, preparing a view today (however uncertain you might be) will help you to understand the sensitivities and trade-offs you might need to make in deciding to add certain roles and/or functions to your business. For example, do you need a growth marketer? Another developer? Or is it more important to find someone who can re-design your clunky customer experience? For the next 6 months, perhaps you’ve only got the budget for 1 extra person — but at least you can look at the relative risks and benefits of each role in relation to your strategy.

3. What does it mean to “fit” in your team?

How explicitly can you describe your approach to cultural fit? I often hear founders describe fit as “we’ll know it when we meet it”, or “gut feeling”. There’s no doubt that instinct plays a role in knowing whether someone will fit into your team. The problem with relying solely on your gut is that you are more likely to hire people “just like you”.

When it comes to culture fit, “we’ll know it when we see it” is the natural predator of diversity.

The key here is to articulate the set of core values that you want to guide decision making within the team. Then you can look for people with a diverse range of backgrounds, experiences, thinking styles and perspectives to help you bring those values to life through your work.

4. How will you integrate the new role(s) into the team?

Introducing a new role, especially one that hasn’t existed before in your team, has significant consequences for both the successful candidate and the current team members. Everyone needs to understand their role and how it connects to every other role in the team. This means spending time clearly articulating clear responsibilities and outcomes for each team member.

One note of caution…as exciting as the introduction of a new role might be, it may also produce mixed emotions for existing team members. While they may be relieved to have some workload lifted from their plate, they may also experience a sense of loss as they prepare to handover responsibilities they care deeply about. There may be a sense of grief when they are no longer asked their opinion on particular issues or find that they don’t have to attend certain meetings anymore. A little empathy (and a good transition plan) go a long way in these circumstances.

5. How will you balance the outcomes and wellbeing of your team?

The magnetism of purpose-driven, fast growth can be strong and unrelenting for a highly motivated team — and significant discretionary effort (in other words, going way above and beyond) is typically the result. On one hand, this is great because it accelerates progress towards your goals. On the other, it may result in members of your team ignoring other important elements in their lives such as health, family and friends — which ultimately will have a significant impact on their wellbeing.

As a leader, your words and actions will carry great weight with your team when it comes to wellbeing. What are they hearing and seeing from you when it comes to spending time with loved ones? Or switching off when on leave? Or heading to the gym for a workout?

It’s not my place to tell you what is right for you. My only intent is to remind you that the decisions you do make (the visible and invisible ones) will send messages to your team about what is OK (and not OK) for them to do. If you tell them that vacation time = time to switch off devices — but then spend your vacation sending them Slack messages (it happens more than you realise!) then it is likely they will follow your lead and do the same on their break. So before you ramp up your hiring plan, take some time to think about how your schedule and behaviours tell your team what you think about their wellbeing.

Whether you’re startup founder thinking about hiring for the first time or a seasoned leader preparing for a new phase of growth, these 5 questions can help you to do the necessary thinking before you start spending time and money on recruitment. If you’d like a sounding board to think them through or there are other people questions you’re pondering, let’s chat. And don’t forget to follow me here on Medium.

Till next week where we’ll ponder the challenges of creating a performance culture. Stay safe.

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Melissa Rosenthal

Melissa Rosenthal

Executive Coach | Mentor | Advisor | Podcast Co-host Remote Control |www.melissajrosenthal.com