Entrepreneurs often make poor decisions about hiring and staffing because they are stuck in crisis mode: They need help immediately.
Stephen R. Covey popularized this notion with the "Urgent/Important Matrix" in his 1994 book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. With this matrix, Covey explains that people often focus too much on immediacy and ignore tasks that are deemed important and have a long-term impact on the company’s health or personal goals.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing only on what’s urgent and leaving aside what is merely important. (Unfortunately, this has a tendency to create more situations that rank as urgent.) To prevent what is important from turning into something that is both important and urgent, we need to plan ahead.
When it comes to hiring and managing a team, here are some of the rules that have helped me in my business.
Related: How to Avoid Hiring Duds
1. Build a core team of competent experts. When a company is small it should be made up only of multi-skilled experts who are highly competent self-starters. They must know how to work on their own as well as in a team, be able to solve problems and have the rare ability to do many things well.
Without this core team of experts to rely on, your business will be crippled from its inception and mediocrity is your destiny. It’s easier to get this right in the beginning then when you already have a growing business, so do it right the first time.
2. Interview a lot of people. When you’re short on time, it’s hard to sort through a pile of emails from 50 people who are interested in that front-end coder position. Entrepreneurs often hire the first halfway competent person who comes along and talks the good talk. If you have your team of experts in place, they can help you screen applicants and make better hiring decisions. (Note: these experts need not be full-time employees but can be part-time contractors.)
3. Test people out. I never hire someone full time before working with them on contract. If I’m hiring a web designer, I hire her to work on a single project. It is a task that isn’t urgent and in a worst-case scenario, can be redone without too much expense.
More than once I have been impressed with someone, hired her on contract to do a test project and within 10 hours of working with that person realized it wasn’t going to work out long term. It’s unfortunate but much better than if I had found this out after hiring them on full time.
4. Have backups. Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of creating a core team of experts and believe they have their bases covered. They move on to taking care of other, more urgent business matters. Then a member of the core team leaves or is incapacitated, and it becomes an emergency because nobody is ready to take over.
Many times I’ve caught myself thinking, “how in the world will I ever find someone as good as so and so?” But the truth is, there are a lot of people out there who can get the job done and there is probably someone who can do it better than the member of your team who is doing it right now. But don’t wait until you need them yesterday to start conducting interviews. Find backups right now. Do contract projects here and there with potential candidates. Then when you lose a member of your team, you’ll already know exactly who to bring in as a replacement.
I put these practices to work recently when I had the need to hire a front-end coder. I posted a help-wanted ad at Authentic Jobs and within a few days received 40 to 50 applications. I know a bit about front-end code and was able to narrow the group down to five or six. (Thankfully, I already have an expert front-end coder on staff, and she helped me review the final group.) We narrowed it down to a single application who was the real deal and reached out to him to offer him a test project on contract. If it works out, we’ll have a good backup when it comes to front-end coding.
As an entrepreneur you know hiring is important. But if you let circumstances dictate your hiring practices, you’ll always act in a state of urgency, and the results won’t be good. Following the practices above can ensure that when you do your hiring you’re in control and can build the team you truly want.