Hiring

Why You Should Hire Only Flexible Minds

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I was in the conference room using a proprietary Ikea tool to piece together a heap of parts into something that resembled a chair. It was the day after my company had hired its first salesperson and he was working in a nearby room. Instead of listening to the radio, I listened to his phone calls.

By the time I had finished making two or three chairs, he called out, “I think I just made a sale. How do we invoice people?”

I got up and said -- or thought; I can’t remember which -- “This is going to work out just fine.”

At that point, my company didn’t have any kind of training procedure. It didn’t have sophisticated marketing materials. The company's services weren’t that tightly focused and pricing was sometimes ad hoc. There was no intranet, customer relationship management system, elaborate current client lists or testimonials. There wasn't much. Yet somehow it all worked, without his even asking for much help from me.

The key here is that he’s a special kind of person, the only kind of person that startups should ever hire.

Related: How to Communicate With Your First Employee

In a somewhat different context, some people call this having a flexible mind. It’s about what Leo Baubata called “developing the ability to cope with change, to be flexible to simplify.” 

At a startup, the rate of change is extremely high across all areas. The services, pricing strategy, focus and even the marketing message may and should undergo refinement every day. It’s not enough for employees to try to keep up with this change. They need to own and effect change themselves.

Ben Yoskovitz wrote in a blog post “How To Design a Successful Interview Process for Hiring Top Talent” that he looked for people “who had that special extra gear; the few people with the determination to plough through, take chances and be capable of clearly and confidently explain what they did after the fact.”

Said another way, seeking the startup team is not a search for people who ask where the manual is. Rather it's a hunt for people to write the manual.

Related: The 4 Roles Every Founding Team Should Have

A startup typically does not have the processes in place to accommodate people who want to read from a script. Working for a startup requires improvisation, an ability to come up with a new line when the other actor drops his. Screen for this adaptability through role-playing real-life scenarios during interviews and by searching for people who seek out change and challenge.

It’s not just startups that need to value and promote flexibility. Adaptability may be the defining trait of successful 21-century companies. In a post on the Harvard Business Review site “Adaptability: The New Competitive Advantage,” the authors write, “Instead of being really good at doing some particular thing, companies must be really good at learning how to do new things.”

Some of the largest, most entrenched industry titans have faced massive disruption that has challenged the very essence of their business models such as Hollywood moviemakers confining themselves to making movies delivered through the cinema or the news industry's defining itself by the media of delivery instead of by the product. These big industries could perhaps use some startup thinking.

Adaptability matters when it comes to communication. Employers are now beginning to value intercultural adaptability as much as experience and technical knowledge. It’s not just because of globalization or outsourcing. The innovation that successful companies must create demands diversity. That diversity requires flexible thinkers who are open to challenges and new ways of solving problems.

All companies must now assume the inevitability of change, if not disruption, for which there is no manual. It’s imperative to hire for this challenge, which can only be met with agile, adaptable and flexible minds that are capable of constant learning. At my company, Recruiter.com, no matter what job I'm hiring for, these traits are the only must-have requirements.

Related: Welcome to the Nimble Workplace of the Future, One Fostering Constant Change