Who to hire into your start up – is a big decision.

DREAMI recently spoke to The Start Society in it’s iCentral.co space for tech startups in Sydney, and one of the questions I was thrown was: “When you are looking to hire people in your business, how do you do it effectively?”

My answer was very straightforward: “I hire adults. I hire people who share my values, my passion — and most importantly are aligned to my purpose — but I don’t want people just like me.” I need to know who they are… beyond their “capability.” I ask:

  • What do you believe in?
  • What do you stand for?
  • How do you want to make the world a better place?
  • What are your aspirations?

Unfortunately, some leaders have a tendency (some call it a complex) to hire people who are “like them.” Why? They want to work with people that share the same tenacity, that shared sense of purpose, passion and persistence in everything they do. Sometimes this comes from a genuine place of protection — being burnt by employees who do not share the strong work ethic you have can be very disheartening, and when it is your “baby” they are not as obsessed about as you are, it is understandable to take offence to this — but it is not the foundation to a successful recruitment strategy.

It can be quite confronting when you realise that you (as the leader) are not the best person to do the hiring… it takes skilled professionals who fulfill on the brief. Megan Bromley was that person for me in the fast-growth post-startup phase at RedBalloon as Head of Employee Experience. She brought the talent and professional skills to the vision that myself and the other leaders in the business created.

I realised I did not have the capacity to separate my instinct from my passion. My love for the business and ensuring the best people worked there didn’t always translate to hiring excellent employees. I needed an expert… In the early days, I was known to walk into an interview and tell the prospective hire how great RedBalloon was, and why they should work for us. I wasn’t listening deeply and quite frankly I was not cut out for it.

My top tip for hiring in the early days of a business? Hire people who complement you — you want to bring people on the journey whose strengths are not your strengths. This is how you build a successful business of great people. Even though I had all the best intentions in the world, I didn’t necessarily have the skills…

Megan transformed the process and turned it into a “dating game,” making sure we could explore best fit. It was for us to establish not just what the candidates could “give” to the business — but make sure they have an insight into what they can expect to “get” — how their career will be enhanced from being a part of our team.

Here is the video we used as part of our recruitment process from that time at RedBalloon:

I thought it might be useful to include some RedBalloon interview questions you might like to use that will help filter those who share your values and those that don’t:

  • What are you most passionate about? (This gives an insight into what they are like as a whole person not just the 9-to-5 person.)
  • What excites you about life?
  • What do you look like on a bad day at work? This comes from a place of being honest and acknowledging that everyone has a bad day from time to time. We want to know how you look for the signs, and how best they can be managed by you, and your Team Leader.
  • In the application process at RedBalloon, there is a question asking the candidate to tell us how they align with the values of the business, giving real examples.

When it comes to the process, RedBalloon has certainly got it right. From application screening to a group interview, a one-on-one interview, and a team meet-and-greet before a final decision is made by the Team Leader, we believe our process is consultative and representative of our values.

The same goes for onboarding. When you walk through that Big Red Door for your first day as a RedBallooner, you are met by your buddy who guides you through setup, introductions, orientation, takes you out to lunch and is your go-to person for any questions that you have as you settle in. We take this process very seriously — we are taking people on a journey ultimately. And we want them to be supported.

What differentiates the types of people who are hired simply because they are good at what they do vs. the people who are deeply committed to what the organisation is doing? The former simply works for a paycheck. These are not the people who share your values — and these traits don’t make it past “The Big Red Door” at RedBalloon, that is for sure! There is no longevity in hiring someone on their technical skill set alone. Cultural fit is 50 percent of the hire…

These are the people who will leave if they get a better offer. They are the first to criticise a position the organisation has taken, along with the ideas generated by the leadership. They are negative energies that have no place in a workplace set on changing the world. These are not the people I hire.

“You can have the best strategy and the best building in the world, but if you don’t have the hearts and minds of the people who work with you, none of it comes to life.” – Renee West

I want employees who take your cause and make it their own.

If you were to ask me specifically what I don’t look for, I spoke about the difference between persistence and pig-headedness on Shark Tank during the first season, and for very good reason. My advice is not limited to entrepreneurs — it also applies to prospective hires. I look for people who are persistent in their viewpoint, can listen deeply and work collaboratively with their team to achieve a successful outcome — but are not pig-headed about it.

In April of this year, Anne-Marie Balfe spoke very eloquently on this: “Have the courage to listen to alternative viewpoints, and the conviction to follow through.”

In my role working on Redii, I have learnt that I want to work with people who want to embrace the journey. People who understand that the changing nature of the world of work means that peer-to-peer recognition is the key to success. That profits return dollars, but that true engagement returns dollars, smiles and a sustained culture of recognition — and what’s got more longevity?

This article first appeared on LinkedIn as part of the How I Hire content series

3 Responses

  1. 15 September 2015 at 4:29 am

    Hire people who compliment you, very interesting recruitment strategy. Something that is quite scary for a lot of leaders, great article! Thanks!!

  2. 6 October 2015 at 7:45 pm

    I agree! One of the reason why a company hire an employee because they needed someone that could help them achieve their goal. Someone who possess the skill/ability that the existing employees doesn’t have. This is where a team is created. A team consists of different people with different skills working together as one. This must be the mindset of anyone who’s still on a start-up.

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