Hiring Dilemmas

Who to Hire? When to Hire? How to Hire? These are all questions to ponder when starting a company. Do you acquire, lure, steal or merely invite these new team members to come play in your sandbox? We have been studying roles, relationships and risks involved with a new start-up. We have looked into the eyes of our own truth to determine if we are in it for the money or to be King or Queen of the sandbox. We have had to take a long hard look at family and friends, long term acquaintances, or newbies in the neighborhood coming to our playground.

It seems easy to go with the people we know, but Wasserman believes your comfort zone is a like “playing-with-fire”. (2012, p.216) “Teams whose members have prior personal relationships may be less likely to discuss sensitive issues and may also face major damage to those relationships if things go sour in the startup.” (p. 217) I was asked to be a part of team for a non-profit organization, where I was very close to the CEO. When she asked me to be the Chair of the Board, I declined. She asked me to step in until they could find someone because I was the most qualified. I told her that the person that eats at her dining room table is not the same person that would lead the board. Needless to say I resigned because I could not fulfill the role as Chair without damaging the relationship. I was qualified for the role, but not at the expense of hurting her. I respected her too much and I did not agree with the way the company was run. I resigned before there was a crash and burn. And I can say that our relationship is not the same for me.

When I was a hiring manager at the bank, I would seek out referrals first when needing to fill a position. I would rather have a first-hand account from someone tangible than from a cold call on a reference list. My concerns were more about work ethics. As we have discussed before, the technicalities can be taught. I have invited a new-hire into the sandbox and then wanted to tell them they can’t play anymore. I recall thinking that I wanted the person on the resume. Letting people go or reassigning them to another branch was never easy. People tend to think, what is wrong with me or am I not good enough. My regional manager would send employees to my branch to determine a valid termination. That sucked for me. I was always the bad guy. But I was the one to get the proper documentation in order to dismiss them according to policy. Therefore, my sandbox always had turnover.

Finding a balancing between the right people, the right time, and at the right cost is an act that takes maturity. Learning and growing in a new startup is part of becoming successful. I believe accessing risk is a key component of finding balance. Who can you afford to let go or bring on the team? As the Founder, you have to decide the degree of risk and make decisions that can be most favorable for the company whether the sandbox is full of friends from the neighborhood or full of strangers from around the way.

Wasserman, Noam. (2012) The Founder’s Dilemmas. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

4 thoughts on “Hiring Dilemmas”

  1. It sounds like you did the right thing but your friend was not aware of the possible fallout of the relationship. Letting people go has to go has to be one of the most difficult tasks in any position. From all the readings we can see how that time and money spent at the beginning is much better for the organization than the “quick hire”. Too bad they made you the bad guy instead of having you train the other branches on how to do proper documentation so your sandbox was not always turning over.

  2. Being the “bad guy” is never easy; however, I am curious if you could try to take those B or C-Players and build them up to A-Players. Maybe that is what you are already doing with those transfer employees.

    1. I actually look for their strengths even though their weaknesses are why they have come. I try to see if there is another fit where they can continue with the company. I look for the B player in them because they are C when they got to my branch. I find the issue is they do not want to accept the truth about where they are now and not where they use to be years ago.

  3. Michelle – this is something that I struggle with as well. I honestly work from the angle that I can teach process… but I cannot teach attitude and approach. Dedication, hard work, ethic/trustworthiness, and passion are nearly impossible to teach. It is nice to also hire people who have the technical know-how to get a job done, but I too am in the same boat as you. I first look for referrals and focus on the previous attributes listed. As noted, though, it is important that the individuals can actually do the job… but the intangibles (essentially that team fit) are imperative for me. Thank you for your post – I appreciate your perspective!

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