I mentioned a favorite saying of mine in the last chapter: “Slow to hire, quick to fire.” This is truer than ever when you see your killer team in light of your company culture. The culture of your company is all about the people you hire. Your first hires will help you firmly plant the roots of the culture you want to nurture.
These initial hires should be generalists. You have your specialists in your accountant and attorney; from there, you need to hire switch-hitters. These generalists must carry with them “can do!” and “how can I contribute?” attitudes. The last thing you want is to hire a person who can or will wear only one hat. To avoid singlehatters, you need to carefully go through the hiring process, considering everything from the cover letter to final references before you sign on the dotted line.
Not only does your team mold your culture, but you can use your culture to mold your team. (See chapter 16, “The Holy Grail,” for details on creating your company culture. In this section, I will focus on the hiring side of that endeavor.) One of the side benefits of getting your culture somewhat established prior to the hiring phase is that interviewees will see it and sense it. You will better discern whether or not the interviewee will fit into your culture. Hire people who will choose to jump in with both feet. These people will embrace your vision and help you quickly and effectively move your enterprise forward.
In July 2004, I was interviewing for a creative ad copywriter for one of my companies. These ads would be seen by millions of people each month. I needed someone with solid writing skills and the ability to create imaginative and pertinent advertisements. I looked through about one hundred and fifty resumes. About one hundred and forty-nine of the cover letters looked something like this:
To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing this email in response to the job order for
creative ad copywriter. I am very interested in the position
and I have attached my resume. If you would like additional
information about me, I am registered with the Department
of Workforce Services. If you would like to contact me,
you may do so via email or phone. I appreciate your time.
The hundred-and-fiftieth resume really stood out. Here’s the cover letter it came with:
Do you need a writer who can create charismatic, creative,
captivating, and compelling ad copy? Are you missing
some zing-da-ba-ding in your current ads? Do you just
need a little dash of this, or a pinch of that, to make
your copy more palatable? Well, consider me your word
chef! I can slice, dice, and spice the ad in a way that will
make your mouth water and taste buds anticipate. I have
included my past engagements as chef extraordinaire, but I
am looking for ways to bring home the bacon, while never
really leaving the kitchen. That is why I was drawn like a
magnet to your enticing placing with Workforce Services.
I love to write, read, research, and analyze, and I believe
these are skills that are really gifts. I was born with it, and
it has been sharpened and honed over time. I have not only
the ability to tap into my creative side, but also am quite
left-brained in my attention to detail and my organizational
abilities. I can work alone or with others, and I never run
with scissors. I’m a great person to work with because I am
funny and personable, but I can also be very professional
and prudent. I would look forward to an interview with
your company, partially because my curiosity is piqued,
but also because it sounds like a great opportunity. Even
if this email reaches you too late and finds you have filled
the position, please keep me in mind for future positions in
any of your catering needs.
Who do you suppose got my attention—and the job? Watch for applicants who stand out! You’ll always need an interview, of course, but the first contact can tell you a lot about a person, the way they think, and the attitude they will bring. Make sure that this all lines up with your culture, and don’t be afraid of a little spice!
Consider building quirks into your culture, just left or right of established norms. Killer teams need creativity. Creativity can sometimes get pretty quirky. In the hiring process, do not be afraid to mention these quirks in an interview. You might say something like this:
“We are a nimble, dynamic team. Our culture is not for everyone. We embrace accountability and expect all of our team members to do the same. It may be a bit out of the ordinary, but we display everyone’s prioritized objectives on the whiteboard. We conduct regular ‘face the whiteboard’ sessions where everyone reports on the status of their objectives. We all answer to the team as a whole. If that kind of accountability bothers you, this is not the company for you.”
Also, share a story or two in the interview process that has helped define the company. This fun and revealing practice might highlight some successful but intense negotiation or a silly snafu that you had to escape. See how the candidate responds and comments. Making bold statements and telling stories weeds out the people who want to sit in a cubicle and offer only the “status quo.” It also gives positive signals to the
person who is the right fit.
Recently, Ron and I went through the process of hiring a new engineer. A talented fellow applied, and our interview team explained the prevailing mentality we needed in whoever filled the position. For this special object, failure was not an option. We knew we had to see this project through to the end, even if it meant extreme days and nights. Accordingly, we wanted to hire someone who could jump on board with both feet. There wasn’t time to dilly-dally.
This applicant’s response to our need was something along the lines of: “At this stage in my career, all I really want is to work from home. I want to start whenever I get up, go work in the garden when I want, and then get back to the project later in the day.” Not a bad aspiration—plenty of people want a little freedom— and perhaps it will fit somebody’s culture somewhere, but not ours and not now. We all opted out. We went on to hire someone who had the attitude we needed. As for our other applicant, we heard he found the right fit and is contentedly programming software from a lawn swing tucked away in the corner of his secret garden.
Take time to compile a list of interview questions that will reveal the attributes that you want and need to know. Ask every candidate the same questions so you have a level playing field. Keep notes on the answers in case you have to choose between two or three really good candidates. Take time to find the candidate that fits the culture. Be slow to hire—always!
Porter’s Points – Slow to Hire
- Employees make your culture as much as culture makes your employees. Before you start faxing out tax forms and contracts, consider the following:
- Make the finances fit. Reducing your workload so you can hang around the water cooler more often is not a valid reason to shop around for additional employees.
- Consider whether or not you can outsource the job.
- Take as many applications as possible for the position. Screen them by phone before inviting people in for a formal interview.
- Interview finalists back-to-back to be able to make good comparisons.
- Call the references and check out candidates’ backgrounds
- Culture is crucial to your company. Once you have done your homework, don’t settle for anything less than the best.
- Listen to your gut. You can make a culture outside of the norm.
- Know what type of culture you want before you hire.
- Don’t be afraid to add a little spice to the ingredients of your office recipe.
- Hiring may not really last ‘til death do you part, but treat it that way.
- Doing it right up front beats back-end cleanup.