There is a courtship ritual in hiring, as in marriage, and it’s really, really important.
Hiring the right executives for a start up is like choosing your life partner. Your leaders often spend more time with each other than with their spouses and too many startups pay lip service to their due diligence. They end up in quickie marriages… and subsequent messy divorces.
I’ve been happily married (OK, a few bumps and bruises along the way) for 30 years. I remember vividly taking a premarital course sponsored by the Catholic Church with my wife, Nicki. There were about 30 couples in the three day session and we talked about things like managing money, compromising, dealing with conflict, trying to change your partner, taking responsibility etc. It was clear to me that a number of those relationships were in for a rocky road. (Maybe that should have been my hint to look at recruiting as a profession).
As in a marriage, the senior executive/partner that you hire will be in a deep relationship with you. Your partner needs to be trustworthy and needs to make you stronger while being able to manage the idiosyncrasies of your own personality. Even in marriage, the chances of success are only about 60% so consider doing some serious due diligence when you bring on your first, and subsequent, senior level executives.
Be objective about what you’re looking for Think about the skills you need in a partner and the personality traits you can and can’t live with. Most importantly, find someone who is as excited and as driven as you are to make the relationship succeed.
Don’t duplicate yourself Find an executive who complements the founding team’s skills rather than overlap them. You should share a sense of vision and values but not have totally overlapping skills.
Look for attitude There is absolutely nothing as important as attitude in predicting how they’ll manage strife and the barriers that will be thrown in your way. A can-do attitude and a level of self awareness go a long, long way towards managing those ups and downs.
Take your time You can’t get to know someone in one conversation/date, or even in several conversations. The more you can discuss up front, and learn about that person, the better. Take them for dinner, go to a ball game and spend some time together outside the office to see how they interact with the world.
Share financial commitment Don’t go into partnership with someone who doesn’t put some skin in the game. An equal commitment puts “equal” pressure on each member of the partnership and decreases the chance of a partner suddenly walking away leaving you with all the responsibilities.
Have a contract Whatever agreement you come to, put it in writing in a formal partnership agreement. Being clear and concise about your mutual objectives brings clarity to future conversations as things heat up.
Check out your partner Check out their family and friends. How they interact with them will provide you a good indication of who they are deep down.
Figure out your roles and stick to them When you do choose a partner work out the function(s) each of you will fulfill. This way, you’ll have clear definitions for what each of your roles and contributions will be within the business. Stick to what you know and let your partners take charge of what they are good at.
Follow these rules the next time you’re looking to hire a senior executive for your firm and you may end up half as lucky as I’ve been in choosing my own partner for life!