Planning Found’s 2018 Christmas Party has been very different to 2016. Two years ago we were a ‘two taxi team’ (the whole business could fit in two taxis). The Christmas party was pretty easy; head to Watson’s Bay, grab a table, and have lunch. Job done.
The 2018 Christmas Party will be a very different affair. We’re now solidly a ‘bus’ sized team, having grown from seven to twenty staff in the last two years (with more hires to join in early 2019). This year’s party planning has required military precision, as transportation, logistics and catering are now a major feat.
In many ways this symbolises the challenges of growing a team. In the early days everything could be run pretty simply, and very ad-hoc. Given the team was small, everyone knew what everyone else was doing, a lot of the key hires came through either existing relationships or referrals, and the culture of the business was relatively straightforward and driven largely by adrenaline (we’re all excited about this great idea and doing our utmost to make it work).
As the business grew and matured, things got more complicated.
Given our unlimited access to over 600,000 candidates on our own platform, many expect that hiring would be a ‘piece of cake’ for us, but this is far from reality. Growing a team is much harder than just finding ‘bodies to fill seats’, and over the course of growing our business we’ve made a lot of mistakes, despite arriving at the end of 2018 with the awesome group of people who we work with on a daily basis.
Finding your key hires
For any business looking to scale up the number one challenge is finding those key hires who not only share the vision of the founding team, but who can also take responsibility and be trusted to run their part of the business with both care and control. Making a wrong hire into this type of role can not only set the business back, it can end up doing serious damage (if not killing it entirely).
Finding these key people is incredibly difficult, and there’s no ‘silver bullet’ that will ensure you get it right every time.
At Found, our approach has been to ensure we spend plenty of time with potential hires to discuss the vision of the business, and then have very frank conversations about the challenges of the role. In many ways we try to talk the potential hire out of accepting the role. It sounds counter intuitive but there is method to the madness. It’s very easy to ‘over-sell’ a business in its early stages, and the last thing you want to do is hire someone who then ends up being a poor fit because they’ve ended up in a role that’s different to what they expected. On the other hand, if they are still excited about the opportunity after hearing about the good, bad and the ugly, then you know you’re onto a good thing.
Empowering key hires
Once these key hires are in place, it’s absolutely critical to empower them to make decisions about the people who work with them – after all, if they don’t have the capability to make great hiring decisions themselves, they’re not going to be the right person for a senior role as the business grows.
Our approach has always been for the one-up manager to have complete accountability for the hire, with the two-up manager also closely involved in the decision. Ultimately the two-up manager needs to be able to veto a hire, but should never force the direct report to hire someone they don’t want to. And if the business gets to the point where there are more layers than this there shouldn’t be any change, as there’s no need for a ‘three-up’ manager to be involved in the decision.
The ‘getting to know each other’ phase
Once the decision has been made to hire a new team member, it’s critical that both the new hire and the business go through a ‘getting to know each other’ period over the first three months, with the opportunity to have a frank conversation before the end of the probation period.
In the past, we’ve sometimes struggled to formalise this process, or have missed the ‘window’ to have the discussion. But we quickly realised that this process is crucial. One of our recent changes is to ensure we schedule this first review chat on the day the new hire starts. This way, it’s clear upfront that there will be an open conversation about how the employment relationship is tracking before either party agrees to anything long term.
Don’t be afraid to let someone go
Finally, if a new team member isn’t working out, despite all efforts (and after open conversations) it’s critical that the business is willing to let them go. This is possibly one of the hardest things about being a ‘boss’ for the first time – and I suspect everyone who’s ever had to fire people will remember the first time they did it. The key thing is that this is done with respect , and once the decision has been made, that it’s done rapidly (as it’s very easy to procrastinate over these decisions). With experience comes the realisation that in many cases, if the new hire isn’t working out it’s best to part ways sooner rather than later. We’ve certainly made the mistake in the past of persisting with employees for too long, who we then had to let go six months later anyway. You’ll know in your gut if someone isn’t right, for whatever reason, and it’s important to trust that.
So if you’re looking to grow your ‘two taxi team’ into a ‘bus’ be sure to get the right people (key hires) into the driving seat, empower them and build out from there. It’s one thing to have a good product or business, but it’s nothing without the right people beside you to help it come to fruition.
And while the logistics of a Christmas party will become trickier with a bigger team, if it’s the rightteam boy is it worth the ride.
Andrew Joyce, co-founder, Found Careers