Smart Hires And Open Conversations

I recently bumped into a colleague who’s running a very successful and rapidly growing small company (6 to 26 staff over the past few years). They have a unique software offering and have done well in extending their business from the UK to the US. A consequence of this is that he has to make quite a few international trips so time is increasingly tight. In addition, as the company has grown so has the internal and external communication deluge, especially email.

We got to talking about approaches for handling such key and common business management problems. One was ’hiring people smarter than yourself’.

In building up a small company, the founders get familiar with all it’s aspects and along the way generate their preferred way of doing things (marketing, sales, administration, whatever). New hires are then often taken on to do this same job in the same way. As people are different this is rarely straightforward, so time has to be spent in coaching or discussing differences in views, but all aimed at doing just the exact same job.

He remarked that in their case he remembered the advice of a previous boss to only hire people smarter than yourself to make sure that the job gets done better and (almost certainly) differently!

As far as I remember, this was their process for their first new hire (a service support role):

1. Advertise in The Evening Standard on the ‘computing’ day – they got over 100 responses.

2. Go through all the applicants and give a phone interview to the promising ones – this left about 5 candidates.

3. Give each candidate a one-on-one interview with every member of the company – about 5 staff at the time.

4. Then, get all the staff together in a round table and openly discuss their views and impressions.

The key new aspect was that the round table conversation focused on whether they thought an applicant could do a better job than they could individually for that position and why!

So the emphasis was on exploring applicants real strengths rather than fitting them into a rigidly pre-arranged role. This obviously requires imagination as well as quite a bit of honesty. In fact it was a sort of ‘mini-knowledge cafe’ with an important decision as output.

They hired the person they thought could best do the job and (as hoped for) she has made major improvements to the support area by doing things her way and is still with the company 10 years on.

I’ve interviewed lots of staff and in all cases I needed to conform to the ‘company hiring process’ (as is common with most large organisations). This did have many good points but had the underlying weakness that it was tacitly assumed that everyone was (let’s be honest) a cog in a well-oiled machine.

Better results might come out of running such an ‘interview cafe’!

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