When Building Your Team, Focus on People, Not Jobs

February 23, 2017

7:00 pm

When building a startup, putting strategic forethought toward product development, marketing, sales and other core functions is important. But all too often when building a team, founders wait to dedicate focused attention until they feel pain. And that pain eventually leads to a public cry for help in the form a a job description posted for the world to see.

The description is packed with a wish list of skills the founder wanted on the team months ago and a list of objectives that they think they wanted done yesterday. After posting, founders spend hours, weeks, or even months in a mind-numbing cycle of looking for the right needle in the haystack of inbound applications. Maybe they’ll get lucky and find someone great.

More often, founders will squint just hard enough to convince themselves that the best of the bunch is good enough. They get stuck believing that they’re better off having someone working on the problem today rather than waiting for the perfect candidate.  In order to break this cycle, we need to focus team building activities around people, not jobs.

The Importance of Intrinsic Skills

Jobs are ephemeral, particularly in a dynamic, high-growth startup environment. If the person you hire stays at your company through the vetting period associated with their initial option grant, they will likely have at least a few different formal job titles, in addition to the near-constant iterations associated with evolving goals, responsibilities, and company needs.

In contrast, people have relatively immutable intrinsic characteristics and accumulated experiences that they bring to your company. It’s these characteristics and experiences that make your best hires truly game changing for the trajectory of your business.

How to Hire the Right Person

You don’t have to wait for acute pain to strategically build your team with the right people. To shift your approach to team building from a focus on jobs to a focus on people, take the following steps:

Determine Key Intrinsic Characteristics

What inherent qualities are most important for people to possess so that they can make an exceptionally positive impact for your customers and your culture? Make sure you ask this question before you hire anyone for your team.

Define Profiles

Rather than specific job descriptions, create broad profiles that describe distinct groups of people you need to scale your business. For example, you might define a single profile, which encompasses early-career marketing, product, and operations roles which draw on a similar toolkit.

Prioritize Networking

Create and schedule space to consistently invest in meeting new people who fit the criteria you defined in the steps above. Aim high – strive to meet the people you would love to work with regardless of the context. Networking is like eating healthy: the long-term benefit is real but it doesn’t feel as alluring in the moment as ice cream.

Nurture New Relationships

An intentional investment in networking will yield new relationships. Keep conversations warm with periodic check-ins, ask for referrals, and offer your own. Aligning on timing requires some serendipity, but luck smiles on the prepared.

Set Goals, Measure Results and Iterate

Like any other strategic focus area in your startup, you should set specific goals, gather feedback, measure results, and use the insights you collect to iterate on your approach.

Thanks to my co-author for this post, Kendra Haberkorn. Kendra has spent her career focused on the different elements of the employee experience at companies including Craftsy, where she led the People function, McKinsey & Company, Sports Authority, Accenture and now Guild Education.

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