Putting your A Team together
Business leaders need great people both inside the company and out - investors, customers, partners, advisors - as well as a great support network at home. All of these people are critical to the business.
As important as any other aspect of your job as CEO is the need to cultivate the best team possible given the limitations of your budget, mission and headcount. Rather than spending time on improving the capabilities of their teams, we find that many chief tech execs spend a great deal of time attempting to compensate for deficiencies within their teams.
Every person you hire will either strengthen or weaken your culture. That's a tough lesson to learn, but deep down we all know it's true.
Consider applicants in terms of their personality and fit, and train them through an on-boarding experience that reflects your culture. Look for contributors who are motivated both by the company purpose and a genuine enjoyment of what they do.
On the flip side, you can't be afraid to fire people based on patterns of violating your company's values or poor performance. As difficult as it may seem at the time, there's no doubt your company will be better for it in the long run.
It's important to remove under-performers quickly to build superior teams. You can never eliminate under-performers soon enough and you should always be looking for superior talent. Superior people make excellent technology and develop appropriate processes.
Challenges within a company normally point to issues with, or among, the leaders.
"The bottleneck is always at the top of the bottle." - Peter Drucker
As a company scales up, the toughest decisions involve people and their changing roles in an organization, especially within the leadership team. Loyalties, egos, and personal friendships make these decisions even more difficult when the company faces a situation in which it has outgrown some of its early leaders.
I work with companies as small as a few people to well over 250 employees. As companies scale it becomes harder and harder to stay focused and true to finding people that fit the culture and vision of the company.
Attracting and hiring A Players, at all levels of the organization, is as critical as landing the right customers.
"Good managers play checkers while great managers play chess" - Markus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
In checkers, the pieces all move in the same way, whereas in chess, the pieces move differently, allowing you to bring different strengths to the game.
In scaling up the people side of your business, it's crucial to start playing chess sooner rather than later. You need a team of absolute specialists - chess pieces - to achieve your ambitious goals. Because the goal is to grow fast I encourage leaders to look for "idiot savants" (people who are extremely talented in one particular thing and possibly quite bad at others). Teams need to be well-rounded, but their individual members don't have to be.
I've noticed that leaders don't always grasp this, which explains why the traditional "feel-good" interview has such a high failure rate. We have a tendency to hire people most like ourselves and end up with a company of look-a-likes vs. tapping the diversity of talent, backgrounds, and personalities need to drive the fruitful debate, innovation, and differentiation that powers growth.
"If your competitive advantage depends on your people creating something valuable and distinctive, then your workforce can't be normal" - Daniel Cable
You need a "strange" company and a "strange" strategy to differentiate your company in the marketplace. This is why it is so crucial to figure out and clearly state the real core values underpinning your culture; and create the elements of an industry-dominating strategy.
So how do you know if you need to make changes on the people side of the business, and in your life, as you scale up the company? Two questions:
Are you happy? This is not a trick question. Do you enjoy coming to work? Or are you experiencing irreconcilable issues with business partners? Is there a specific executive not getting the job done? Is there a customer with too big a piece of your revenue? Is an investor or the bank making your life difficult? Are you having issues with a family member or friend?
Would you enthusiastically rehire everyone, knowing what you know today? This also applies to the questions above (except for family!) and includes not just employees but existing customers, partners, and other stakeholders in the business. It can be a painful question that requires one to face the brutal facts and make changes. It's especially tough when the company has simply outgrown some earlier relationships.
For help defining your core values and building your A Team, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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