How Do Great CEOs of Start-ups Recruit?
In my days working as the head of HR for big and small companies, I had the opportunity to observe and reflect on what good and bad CEOs do when recruiting key employees for the companies. In my experience, there are 5 things that great CEOs of startups can do to make sure they recruit the right people and that the new people can be successful. Some of such ideas were well said by Ben Horowitz in his book The Hard Thing about Hard Things.
Firstly, CEOs should have strong conviction that successful executives in big companies might not be right for start ups. Successful executives in big companies usually are good at thinking big and long term. For example, a marketing executive in a big company would have his/her marketing plans ready 6 months ahead of the actual implementations. They are good at reviewing process and defining areas for improvement. Most of them behave collaboratively and would rely on and respect the system for decision making and implementation. However, executives in start-ups need to make things happen rather than wait for things to come. To do that, they need to come up with 8 to10 new ideas per day and roll up their sleeves and test the results. Often they get things done through aggressive communication and actions. They sometimes neglect the rules and hierarchy. They break rules and take pride in doing that.
In that context, here comes the 2nd rule: CEOs should get very clear of the specific requirements of the open position, especially the strength points. Like what Ben Horowitz said in his book, the CEO should look for the strength, rather than “no weakness”, in the candidates. In big companies, the recruiting process could be long and complicated, with many parties involved and many views to be considered. If you are not clear about the particular “strength points” that the open position needs, you would easily fall into the trap and you might recruit someone everybody likes, but with no obvious strength for the role. Remember, you are always buying the “total package” of the person when you get him/her in. If he or she can add obvious value to your company with his/her particular strength, you might need to accept the follies he/she carries with him/her.
Here then comes the 3rd rule: watch for the candidates’’ ambition index”. We all heard that the soldier who does not want to be Napoleon is not a good soldier. So ambition to a certain degree is very helpful for the person to perform. However, watch out for where the candidates’ ambition is from. Watch out for languages when the person described his/her past success or failures. If a lot of times he/she said “I want to learn more”, and “ I left my previous company because I felt it could not provide me further chance to learn”, you may be sitting with a person who is always thinking his/her own interests ahead of the companies’ or others’ interests. Such a person might deliver results in short term but would become a bad example for his/her team, and might cost you extra time and efforts to manage, motivate and retain. You will probably lose more in doing that than gaining value for your business and your people.
The 4th rule is to get the RIGHT person for the job and not the BIGGER person. For startups people often think that since we will be X times bigger than now, so let’s get the bigger person who can manage that bigger size so that we can get there more quickly. In doing so you would look at those who are successful in bigger companies and believes that they would do excellently in your current company. This would bring you back to the mistakes that I described in Rule 1. In fact it is always more effective for your to look for the persons who can manage your current size, get them in and give them chances to grow with the job, rather than bringing in the bigger people, shrinking their responsibility and guessing if they are going to be flexible and mature enough. And you always have a way- out — if the “smaller” person does not grow, you could get him/her off and get the bigger people once your size gets bigger.
The 5th rule is that CEOs should get personally responsible for the final recruitment decisions for key positions. In big companies the recruitment decision would usually be the result of the consensus from the interview panelists. CEO usually rely on and respect the consensus. Sometimes that consensus could become an excuse for a lazy or irresponsible decision. In start ups, CEOs should have the sense of responsibility for the recruitment decision and should have say yes or no if he/she does or does not see the strength. And, if the recruitment decision is wrong, CEOs should have the courage to admit it and get the person out of the company at the earlier stage before further damages are done.
When the new person is on board, the CEO’ new journey of integrating this new person into the organization begins. This is nothing easier than recruiting. We could discuss it further.
If you interested in talking to me on this topic and topics related to HR and leadership, you are more than welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!