One of the benefits of establishing your company culture first is that it gives you the opportunity to build your team to fit the culture. Managing a team takes much less energy and attention when you have people who intrinsically embrace the culture you are trying to build. As I said before, successful entrepreneurs hire for the long run -- not just for today -- avoiding the temptation to settle for people who aren’t “A” players and don’t fit the culture.
One great way to avoid that temptation is to require a sponsor for each person you hire. The sponsor has to stand up and say that he or she is going to be responsible for the person’s success and integration into the company. If you can’t get someone to sponsor a candidate, the person doesn’t get hired. Sometimes the hiring manager acts as the sponsor, and other times it might be someone else in the company.
I like to put potential candidates through a lot of interviews, typically with 8 to 12 people. No matter how much time you spend with a potential candidate you are never going to know that person as well as you could, or as well as he or she knows themselves. The real point of putting the person through so many interviews is to help the candidate get to know the company culture and empower them to make the decision about whether or not it’s the right place for them.
Another way to help ensure you are hiring the right person is to start everyone on a form of trial for some period of time, say 30 to 90 days, sometimes as long as 180 days. At the end of that period, the team they work with then must vote for the person to stay — it’s not just the manager deciding or a formality. Obviously, in hot job markets or for certain job categories that might be in tight supply, you may not be able to take this approach.
In addition to having the candidate interview with 8 to 12 people, consider a group interview as a hiring technique. By making the hiring process very robust, you are really ensuring you get someone in your company with the highest probability of fitting in and being successful. As a side benefit, I’ve seen it prove out numerous times that challenging interview processes create stronger buy-in and commitment and generally result in faster starts by the new employee – they worked hard to get accepted, and they want to capitalize on that investment!
Finally, involving the CEO and/or founders in the interview process has a powerful effect on the candidate’s perception of the company and the opportunity (as well as the culture). It really makes them feel special, appreciated, and respected. And there is nothing like a candidate going home to their significant other and bragging that they got to meet with the CEO or founders during their interview!
Bear in mind, not all of these approaches, and others you may learn about, may be right for the culture you are building – embrace what fits and don’t force things that don’t.