Recently the topic of “Are you hiring the right people to do the right things in your company?” has come up with some other business-owner friends of mine. Admittedly, this is a question I grapple with as well. As a small business owner, you are constantly thinking about ways to tweak things to get people in the right positions. Sometimes that means elevating an employee to a management position where they are leading others. Other times, it might just be determining if a person is a proper fit the role they are currently in.

Part of a manager or small business owner’s struggle is that we tend to want to bring on the best possible people in our company, no matter if there’s a true, well-defined role for them. For lack of a better term, we are talking about “A Players.” The philosophy is simple: Bring on the best and your chances for failure are mitigated substantially. Here is the dilemma: how do you make it all work as you’re scaling your team or business up?

Good managers play checkers while great managers play chess, according to Marcus Buckingham, author of First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. In checkers, the pieces all move in the same way, whereas in chess, the pieces move differently, allowing you to bring different strengths to the game.

How Do You Attract the ‘A Players?’

The best managers are most concerned with removing roadblocks and giving employees autonomy to do their jobs. In Verne Harnish’s book Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It… And Why the Rest Don’t, he says, “The best managers are less concerned with motivating their people and more concerned about NOT demotivating them. They consider it their job to prevent the hassles that block their team’s performance.” “A Players” don’t want to work with “bozos,” as Steve Jobs called them. “A Players” can’t stand working with less talented people who, ostensibly, get in their way and slow them down.

We’ve made a commitment to our employees that we will seek out challenging projects with clients who respect our process and contribution to their businesses. But sometimes, a client engagement we think will be great for our team can go sideways, despite having started well. When issues arise, they can damage team morale and leave your “A Players” dissatisfied with their work. And sometimes fixing those issues for your team can mean parting ways with a client.


Bad Culture Fits are Painful

In my experience, I’ve found that a central element to hiring is making sure a candidate’s competencies align with our culture and strategy. As experienced leaders discover, it’s more important to hire for this kind of fit than for specific skills, so long as a person has the capacity to learn and grow (though it’s best to find someone who’s a match in both cultural values and skill set). The rapidly changing requirements of most professionals need a constant updating of skills anyway. On the other hand, cultures are like immune systems and will spit out very capable people who don’t align with the norms.

It’s fairly common for companies, especially when they’re small, to do a really poor job enforcing common culture. There are so many things to tackle as a small business. It’s easy to lose sight of culture. Many companies will sacrifice cultural aspects of a new employee in order to get someone who “can do the job” or “fill a need.” I’m sure many of us have made this mistake (I know I have), but it typically backfires in the most fantastically awful way!

Every founder/CEO I know who has compromised on culture fit has regretted it at some point along the way. Hopefully, if you’re lucky, it only caused minor disruptions to the company. Think about how much time you spend with a bad culture fit trying to make them an “acceptable culture fit.”

My Steps to Hiring the right people:

  1. Filters.
    Without fail, filter people with common outlooks and values early.
  2. Emphasize your values EVERY SINGLE DAY.
    Repeat them over and over. Then repeat them again. Eventually, people will know them and repeat them back to you.
  3. Reward employees based on merit & culture fit.
    Your employees should be rewarded (promotions, financially, etc.) on productivity and culture.
  4. Get rid of bad culture fits quickly.
    Bad culture fits need to go. Even faster than low performers.

As a small, scaling company, hiring poorly and putting people in the wrong seats can be a killer; it can literally derail your entire business. Especially early on, there is nothing more important than hiring people with common philosophies/perspectives and goals who are all willing to move in the same direction.

Jason Russell

CEO and Co-Founder at Stable Kernel

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