Sunday, 4 April 2010

Hiring Rockstars

If you want to do great things, you need a team of RockStars to help.  This requires putting considerable effort into the hiring process.

I believe it is management's moral obligation to work themselves out of a job - it ensures business continuity (I call it the "Play Golf" rule). It also allows you to be ready for the next opportunity.  This therefore means a big part of senior's job is coaching talent.

I have had my share of failures.  When I was first appointed general manager at Internet Solutions I rushed the hiring of a guy that while enthusiastic,  was just not smart enough for the job.  I then hired someone who was really smart but prone to procrastination and would go awol when the going got tough.

Another thing I learnt along the way is that hiring within 2 degrees of separation has the highest efficacy - better culture fit and long terms of employment.  I have also learnt that B's hire C's and A's hire A's.  Your aim is to get an A-Team devoid of B's and C's - not easy.

In my view, there are 3 key attributes to RockStar talent:
1. Smart :: Problem solver
2. Action :: "Get Things Done"
3. Integrity

While experience is important it is trumped by the 3 key attributes in my view.  There are two types of experience: Industry and Business.  Industry is specific to the sector you work in.  Business is about management and financial experience.  I rate industry experience the least.  On many occasions I have seen RockStar outsiders outperform "industry experts".  In fact, people from outside the industry often bring fresh perspective and more energy.

The Problem Solver
This is not IQ.  I am with Gladwell on this - anything over 120 has diminishing marginal utility.  This is all about problem solving and applying ones mind.  Increasingly we live in world that is constantly changing, so memorising a rule book is not going be that helpful.  We need problem solvers that can easily adapt to an increasingly changing environment. You need people that can be presented with unique challenges and find optimal solutions, regularly.

Getting Things Done
Passion is a great indicator of "Action".  Passionate people are always motivated to change things they dislike, complacency is an anathema to them.  Getting Things Done is imperative to producing results.  This means "shipping".  I cannot emphasise enough the importance of an ability to execute.

The hardest attribute to determine in an interview.  Usually it takes experiences with the person to understand the level of integrity.  Trust is everything in business.

The Hiring Process
Generally, I am always recruiting.  This doesnt mean I will hire the people.  It means that I am always open to super talent and if need to be will make a plan to get them into the business despite budgets.

1. The CV: they dont tell you much about the candidate, but obviously provide a good filter.  It is so easy to build a great CV that there is no excuse for not having one.   What I strongly encourage is cover letters: a well thought out short letter speaking specifically to the role and how they would be good for it.  I like candidates that take a stance - that are bold and emotive in the letter.  This process is a great way to see their passion and how well they write (writing well is critical).  Your HR department or recruiter must check all references and degrees - I have sadly caught many people lying at this level.

2. Phone interview and salary expectation: a brief, half hour phone interview while not good enough to make a decision, can help weed out crap therefore saving everyone a great deal of time.  It also limits the prejudice that the "halo effect" gives someone who "looks the part".  While looking the part can help, it is far less important than being Smart and Getting Things Done.  Let them do most of the talking.  Ensure you get a salary expectation from them - this can save a great deal of time.

3. In-Person Interview: I usually have a minimum of two in-person interviews before the presentation.  Usually a panel interview with the team that will work with the candidate.  Then another with myself, the final decision maker.  Ideally I would have one more with a senior manager from another division or an executive that wont necessarily have direct contact with candidate.  Perspective is important.

4. The Presentation Interview: because I work on the revenue side of the business, it is key for the people we hire to be able to articulate a message - whether selling product to customers or selling a new business idea internally.  Here I ask the candidate to do a 10 slide, 20 minute presentation on why they should get our job.  I usually have 4 to 8 people watching this from within our team and senior people outside of our team.

5. I then collate all the information and get a debrief from the interviewers.  From this I make a call.  I usually wont allow a single person to veto a hire, but if two interviewers give a thumbs down I will almost never hire the person.

So what does the above process tell you?  Hiring is very important!  Important enough to spend a great deal of time getting it right in fact.  The cost of hiring the wrong person is massive - it has large negative ripple affect that exceed the direct costs of hiring that person, such as morale and company culture.  Poor performers are a cancer to culture and micro managing these people out is a terrible waste of leaders precious time too.  The old adage rings true: "hire hard, manage easy".

The Interview
I like to ask questions that demonstrate the three key RockStar attributes.  With the candidate's permission, I like to ask quite personal questions so that I can see exactly what type of psyche I will be bringing into the business.  I also like to be pretty tough to see how the respond.  Too many candidates can wax an interview and come across hirable.  By being brutal and prying a little, you can often see what you are likely to get should that person join.


Simon Dingle said...

Great post. And has reminded me of how grateful I am not to be an employer in my business. Or an employee, for that matter. I think the only thing better than working for yourself is not having anyone working for you. Of course, that's just me - and I think you've hit the nail on the head with your two priority values.

Unknown said...

Quality post Spratty. I'm in the middle of the recruitment process now, and am all too aware of the negative multiplier effect.

Also 100% with you on the "Clever and gets things done" rule. Anyone can pick up a manual or attend a class, you can't learn having the 'Right Stuff'.

We'll swap some war stories next time I see you in person :)

Craig Lowe said...

Agree with most, however we differ on the Presentation Interview. Max 5minute slot with 3 slides - or alternatively an elevator Pitch. If they cannot grab you in the first minute, the sale (and person) is lost. Next few minutes indicate how organised the person is - the No1 indictor of "Get things done".

Oh hum, if only they grew on trees.

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