Free lunch. In-office health clubs. Midday massages. With perks aplenty, startups constantly battle to create happy, productive work environments that not only attract the best talent but also retain it for the long term.
Company culture may be having "a moment" at present, but sometimes even the most extravagant employee benefits don’t translate into business success.
No wonder: The startup economy is a high-stakes team sport with constant uncertainty. Only one thing is guaranteed: Your team must be able to hold its ground, no matter who the opponents are and what the conditions are under which you’re playing. So, how you recruit is critical, and it’s no easy feat.
Here are the primary hiring guidelines I follow here at Lucidworks, and the ways in which they contribute to our success:
1. Prioritize operational experience.
This goes for everyone, from engineers to sales reps in the field. In order to best match customer business needs to your own company’s value, employees at all levels must know how to identify and effectively scope projects.
What are the pain points in each space? What makes an influencer an influencer? What kinds of things are possible to build, and what factors will allow you to do it all faster and more cheaply? Domain experts who have been “in the trenches,” so to speak, are the only ones who can answer those questions thoroughly and translate them into real actions.
Customers are sophisticated, but they’re not sophisticated about you. With this in mind, your entire team needs to be able to listen and figure out how your product can help each of your users.
2. Recruit by trust.
Win top talent by earning trust, which you’ll achieve only if you live, breathe and die by your vision, and if you prioritize transparency. This isn’t easy -- nobody really knows how the economy or industry will look in five years, let alone six months from now, no matter how much we speculate.
Your company could have acquisition potential; perhaps it will pursue stand-alone growth or you’ll end up preparing for a market exit. Your startup may fail altogether. But that's the risk. For you, you must lay out and openly accept all possible outcome scenarios in order to find people who align with your vision. Promote inflated (or worse, false) objectives and you’ll end up with an ill-fitted staff with poor intentions, misguided assumptions or both.
3. Build a case for why your startup is right for your candidate right now.
This is the most important factor for hiring top performers, especially when you’re recruiting candidates gainfully employed elsewhere.
While trust and passion are an important part of selling your vision, the best candidates look for more than just the possibility of an upside. They look to be fulfilled personally. Lucky for you, nothing is more fulfilling then a challenge -- and nothing is more challenging than building a technology startup.
It’s important, then, to craft an opportunity that speaks directly to the candidate’s strengths and passions while providing outlets for growth in areas where he or she has yet to be tested.
Crafting this opportunity typically requires previous experience working with the person, so you can highlight how to leverage his or her past successes. In this way you can craft a targeted plan to address areas in which the candidate has been disappointed professionally in the past.
4. Embrace complementary DNA.
At my company, we have two sets of intertwining DNA. In the engineering, research and development departments, everyone possesses a deep passion for our technology and has willingly pursued its development on personal time.
For the nontechnical departments, like sales and marketing, everyone should fully grasp the impact your company can make in the market. Most businesses don’t sell wizbang gadgets or apps that have employees reaching for their credit cards. Instead, companies tend to offer a vision that helps other organizations achieve better versions of themselves. To be successful at this, seek people who share, understand and can execute on that vision.
Remove poisonous people. Seems simple, right? Wrong. Some employees might not seem toxic on the surface. They may have the right skills on paper, but if their integration with your organization’s workflow or objectives is even slightly problematic in the beginning, you can’t afford to keep them around. Your team needs to consist of like-minded folks with a passion for your product and their contributions to it. Once you get the first few employees in the door who embody the right mindset, you'll have an easier time attracting more.
Ultimately, a product is nothing without a good team to power it forward. Recruit by trust and stand by your vision, no matter the complexity of your product, the market conditions or the fierceness of the competition. With a strong team, no obstacle is too great.