Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hiring Engaged Employees

My last few posts have presented my thoughts on the critical need to delight your customers at all times and have discussed some of the how's around that from the perspective of the types of roles you will require and some recommendations around the types of action plans you can implement. There is one major requirement for the execution of the plan and the consistent delivery of a WOW customer experience and that is PEOPLE.
It is imperative that the people building your product, the people hiring, the people interacting with customers, the people in your company are passionate about what they do and are portraying the message and delivering the experience you want. In early days for a startup this isn't so hard because all of these people = 1 person = you!
In all companies hiring right is a key success factor but as a startup and/or small company it can be the difference between success and failure. I know I am oversimplifying and there is tons of literature out there for more complex processes and systems and formulas and measures but this is what it breaks down to:
  1. Hire Engaged People
  2. Keep Them Engaged

If you Hire correctly, keeping engaged people engaged is not nearly as difficult getting unengaged people to engage. You have 500 things to do each day as an entrepreneur/founder/CEO and keeping your employees up during good times and bad is an absolutely critical aspect of your job but don't make that harder on yourself than you have to with less than ideal hiring decisions.

For every role there are key components or competencies of the job that they need to be able to perform and perform at the head of the class but to me this is really just table stakes. Once you have some one who technically can do the job you need done here are some key things to look for:

  • Attitude - Attitude is everything. How are they emotionally in the interview, are they engaging, upbeat, smiling, eager, excited....regardless of the role you should walk away feeling energized not drained
  • Passion - Listen for knowledge and passion for what you do. They won't know everything about everything that your company does but if they are not jazzed about the space and what you are doing from a macro perspective it will make my next point even harder for them to pass and that is......
  • StartUp experience - this is not a must for me but it something I have to feel very comfortable that the person understands especially depending on how I feel about the prior point. There are long days, all nighters, low lows and high highs and you have to be comfortable that this person has a "very healthy appetite for work" lets say
  • Spidey Sense - Call this your gut. You get a feel for someone during the interview. How will they fit with your team, would you feel comfortable if they were in front of your customer? your investor?

My last recommendation here is to have at least two interviews with someone before you make any offer. The first in a more formal, typical interview setting and don't limit yourself to an hour (schedule them in the early evening say 5:30). If things do go well you will want more time to explore and the time will fly. If they pass the first interview the second interview should be in a more informal setting and should involve more members of your team. If you normally go for a pool night, darts, GH3, whatever...invite them.

None of these are rocket science but they are 4 simple points I have written on my white board at the office as I go through the hiring process. Write them down somewhere so you have them and just take a look at the points before and after you conduct your next interview. I actually have a ranking and weighting for each of the four but that is just the finance guy in me needing to bring EVERYTHING back to numbers so I won't bore you with that.

Interested in your comments on your best and worst hires and what happened....hope these help!

Some other great posts on this topic:

Tech Capital Partners - discusses the value of Employee Engagement


Dharmesh at OnStartups - talks about his hiring thoughts for startups

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