I was sorting through some old files and ran across an article I wrote for the MSDN ISV Program Newsletter – May 1999 (issue 27) I love running into stuff I wrote years ago. Why? First, because when it’s far enough in the past, it’s like reading someone else’s work, so the writing skill (or lack of it) really shines out to me. But most importantly, it reinforces my belief that the MAP concepts we’ve developed over the years are valid.
I thought I’d share the article with you since it’s relevance hasn’t changed in nearly a decade (only the phone number is obsolete, it’s now 360.335.8054:).
MSDN ISV Program Newsletter
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Miki Saxon, President of RampUp, offers some helpful tips and perspectives on how to recruit and retain valuable employees.
Don’t Hire Turkeys!
Use Your Culture as an Attraction, Screening, and Retention Tool and Turkey-Proof Your Company
Companies don’t create people-people create companies. At the beginning, most start-ups have great cultures that attract great people, but when business heats up, cultural focus is quickly overwhelmed by other priorities. It takes a certain kind of person to brave the early days of a start-up. Generally, these people don’t like bureaucracy, politics, back-stabbing, etc. In the beginning it’s easier for startups to hire people “like themselves.” First they hire all their friends, and then their friends’ friends. Then what? New positions have to be filled and the only people available are strangers.
So how do you hire strangers and not lose your culture? Since your culture is a product of your people, hire only people with matching or synergistic attitudes. The trick is to have a turkey sieve that will automatically screen out most of the misfits and turn on the candidates with the right values and attitudes. Your sieve is an accurate description of your real culture. It must be hard copy (write it out), fully publicized (everyone needs to know and talk about it), and, most important of all, IT MUST BE TRUE. Email it to every candidate before their interview and be sure that everyone talks about the culture and sells the company’s commitment to it during the interview.
Everybody interviewing needs to listen carefully to what the candidate is saying and not saying. Don’t expect a candidate to openly admit to behaviors considered negative since he may be unaware of them or not consider them negative at all (remember “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap). Red flags need to be followed up, not ignored because of skills or charm. Consider the environment the person has been working in, find out if he agreed with how things were done, and more importantly, how he would have done them if the decision were his.
Whether or not the candidate is a manager, you’ll want to find out about his attitudes and approaches to managing as well as work function methods. Probing people to understand what their conscious responses, as well as their intuitive ones, are to a variety of situations reveals how they will act, react, and contribute to the company’s culture and its success.
Finally, it is up to the hiring manager to shield the candidate from external decision pressures, e.g., friends already employed by the company, headhunters, etc., and above all, it is necessary to give all candidates a face-saving way to withdraw their candidacy and say no to the opportunity. If they don’t have a graceful way of exiting the interview process they may pursue, receive, and accept an offer, even though they know deep down it is not a good decision. A bad match can do major damage to the company, people’s morale, and even the candidate, so a “no” can actually be a good thing.
Remember, the goal is to keep your company culture consistent and flexible as you grow. From the start, you need to consciously identify what you have, decide what you want it to be, publicize it, and use it as a sieve be sure that EVERYONE who joins, fits. Doing so means that the people who join in year three will have as much fun as those who started the company in the first place.
Miki Saxon is the Founder and president of RampUp. RampUp helps high-tech startups and fast-growth companies dramatically improve their employee retention and prevent the dysfunction of turnover by leveraging the company’s culture, implementing progressive staffing practices, and teaching confusion-free management communications. For more information, call 415.648.6100 or visit them at www.thinkRampUp.com.