One of the things I really have a hard time with, is successful people that suffer from believing that what made them successful is what will make people successful in general. For example, in my home country, there are some people that are successful business executives, and they have been scouts when they were young, so they promote the idea of having been a scout as a unique learning experience for people that want to be modern business executives. I was also a scout for one year as a kid, but it was simply not action oriented for me, so I dropped out – it was too wimpy. I am sure many scouts are not wimpy, but that was the case with my platoon after the platoon leader was kicked out for throwing an axe after one of the kids – when he left, some of the substance left with him. Other people says you have to have been an officer (I definitely should have been soldier, but when I had to wear glasses around the age of 16 that dream melted away), a sales rep (done a bit of that), a loyal colleague through 20 years (will probably never happen to me), take a solid education (did that), stay a long way away from university education (well) etc. These people are completely missing the point.
If it was only about doing one or two things, and then you had a unique head start compared to everyone else, then it would be fairly easy – and it is not easy. It is the same with some entrepreneurs: they often have very strong opinions of what background is the right one, and they are also often very anti-establishment in their approach to finding people. “Education doesn’t matter”, “corporate idiots”, etc. I am sitting a bit in between because I have been in and out of both environments, both start-up as well as corporate. I founded a company together with two other guys once, but it failed at the end of the .com days. And then I have been involved in a couple of rather successful corporate start-ups. It is the growth part of running businesses that I find most fulfilling whether it is pure start-up, or the process of taking a raw jewel and scaling it up. And in my mind, you typically need people with many different backgrounds and perspectives if you want to succeed in a major way. If you cut out people just because they haven’t been scouts, are not x-officers, does not have a long academic education etc., then you are narrowing down the talent pool from which to find good colleagues, and you are also losing important and new angles on your business.
It is a difficult art to hire people and build high performing teams, but don’t be too prejudiced about who can do what. I am definitely prejudiced in many ways when I hire people, but I also always try and look for the opportunities in peoples CV’s and personal experiences. I have often taken people for an interview based on the assumption that on paper, this person does not really fit, but there is something else that might not be fully captured, and maybe the person is a gold mine of energy and creativity that just need to be put into the right role in the right team.
And that is the other difficult thing in recruiting: not only does the person need to be talented and all that, but the person also have to make the rest of the team better. Every time a person is added to a team, the performance of the team has to go up not only with the sum of the performance of the new person, but also with the sum of extra performance from the rest of the team mates due to the new person making everybody a bit better. This is also where disaster sometime struck, as a talented person is hired, but the “team delta” is negative, so the extra hire is not making the total team much better – in some cases the net sum might even be negative.
So, it is difficult to hire, since 1) the candidate has to improve the overall team as well, and 2) it is difficult to assess people because just looking at a CV is not enough. Then I saw this http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/932388y– try and go 7-8 minutes into the video, and then this gentleman says that when building companies, it is all about people, so “look for good people” (big news there), after which he says, that you should not hire your “fancy smancy McKinsey friends”! Wow, so by definition, if you have worked for the wolds best management consultant company, you can not participate in building high growth tech companies? I worked for “the Firm” in three years, and I shall be the first to say, that there are a few oddballs in that company, and in general, I think people who have been management consultants for more than 5 years without substantial prior work experience are at risk of getting their heads turned a bit upside down for the real life. And yes, I have had an ex-McK as a boss in a real life company which was a disaster, but of course there are a lot of McK’s that are not only brilliant, but also brilliant in the context of a high growth company. If you are comfortable with your self, if you don’t mind exposing your self a bit, if you are confident in the productive sense of the word, then you embrace people with different backgrounds than your own when building high performing teams. And the more disruptive and creative you want your team to be, the more different backgrounds you need to have on board. The underlying team values and beliefs still have to be shared of course (more about that in a later post).
When that is said, there is no doubt in my mind, that the best Internet CEO’s are male red necks from Jutland, who are in their late 30’s, has spend a mix of time doing corporate digital as well as start-up digital business, and who has a keen interest in CVN’s. Obviously!