This is a topic that should be of interest to everyone involved in the development of a mobile software, SaaS or hardware tech company. Seems obvious that you want and need the best tech company team possible, to beat what is often very intense competition in most tech market segments. In an ideal world, you’d simply select the “best” people and move on to great success.
But the real world doesn’t work that way: there are limited resources and other hiring constraints, as well as the fact that the “best” people don’t always fit together perfectly into a cohesive team. So the question, of course, is how should you go about this important management task? What’s the most important things to consider, given real world constraints? Let’s take a quick look at my list of important considerations.
Shoot for the moon
Hire the best talent
This is obvious and should always be the starting point. Endeavor to hire the very best talent available to you – in general. There is a strong correlation between talent and success. Every successful team will be populated with a great deal of talent, there is no substitution for it. BUT – it’s not as simple as assembling an “all-star team”. Read on for why I make this statement.
Consider what culture you have or want to have and hire to it
Every company that I’ve lead, worked in as an employee or consulted with has a unique culture. Some of them have been quite similar and it is certainly possible to lump many of them into broad categories. There are many different ways to slice this categorization: Top-Down, bottom up, collaborative, aggressive, etc. Many times companies look similar due to common roots of the founders or senior executives.
For example, early in my career I worked at Hewlett Packard back when it had one of the great corporate cultures in business history. My management style was influenced by this strong culture and I adopted many of its principles as my own. I meet many HP alumni leading companies who have done the same. Decide what is important to you in building YOUR company culture and be constantly aware of those cultural goals as you build your team.
Consider your tech company resource constraints
Ideal talent is usually unrealistic
In the “Shoot for the Moon” section above I advised that you should strive to hire the very best talent. But there is far too few people in the top 1% hiring pool for everyone to hire strictly “A” level talent. So almost by definition, compromises need to be made with respect to talent level. Even if “A” level talent was available to you for every hire, only a few of the most cash-flush companies could afford to hire them all. So trade-offs need to be made. In what areas is it most critical to hire the top level talent, and in what other areas can you get by with a “B” player? I believe most companies don’t do this type of strategic exercise, which means prioritizing functional areas at the top level, as well as identifying key (and non-key) positions across the company, then dividing up the hiring budget accordingly.
Taking this high level, strategic approach to hiring priorities can mitigate the downside of a more haphazard approach. Without this planning, other realities can come into play: The “squeaky wheel gets the grease”, the most charismatic hiring manager gets the biggest budget, the hires early in the year before budgets get strained attract better talent, etc. Being proactive in your talent planning can lead to the most optimal deployment of scarce resources.
Timing can drive compromise hiring
No one really wants to ever admit to doing this, but in the real world, it happens. You NEED someone NOW, or very, very soon. Otherwise something important isn’t going to happen that really needs to. Or something very BAD may happen instead. This is the real world of business, especially in a fast moving tech company. As much as this situation should be avoided if at all possible, nearly every company will be in this situation with some frequency. The key is to limit the number of times it happens in the long run. In addition, do you best when your back is to the wall to not act too rashly and make a REALLY bad hire by going way to fast. Or simply forcing the issue with someone in your heart you just don’t feel good about because of near term need. The real world of business management often includes making the best of a bad situation, so even in these circumstances it’s important to “make the best of a bad situation”.
Consider how everyone “fits” on your tech company team
Don’t hire all of the same type of people
This is where even if you could, it usually isn’t the best to hire an “all star team”. All star teams on paper should trounce the competition, but there are many examples in the real world they sometime actually flounder rather than succeed. An unsophisticated management view would find this curious. But anyone that has actually managed REAL PEOPLE usually understands the reason why. People aren’t just machines with performance ratings; they are complex individuals who fit well in working with some co-workers, and not so well with others. For example, You need some outspoken folks or may end up with the “emperor has no clothes” phenomenon. But if everyone is outspoken, it’s often a recipe for chaos.
This topic of “fit” may be the most difficult of all the issues discussed in this article. It is a difficult thing to measure objectively, although there are plenty of “hiring tests” out there such as the venerable Myers-Brigg Type Indicator (MBTI) that folks will sell you to try. It is a subjective exercise, and one that in my opinion justifies significant management time to try to get it right. A cohesive, well-functioning team is a beautiful thing. But one which requires significant effort in the hiring and employee development department. Personality types, work style and actual skill sets should all be considered closely together, not only for overall company culture fit, but specific job fit as well.
It’s important to look at departments and other employee groupings as “mini-companies”
People need to not only fit their job and the overall company culture, but they need to fit VERY WELL with the people they are working with the most. Sometimes that means similar personality types; sometimes it means opposite personality types! It can often be important to balance functions with different types of people. A mix of leaders, followers, team-builders, optimists, may be optimal. Even pessimists can fill a role by bringing an objective viewpoint to a bubbly, positive group of folks. If enough people who work together don’t fit, the larger company will see dysfunction in specific functions and if there is enough of it, this inefficiency will bubble up to the top and bottom line of the overall company results.
Just having the right people isn’t enough – create a “safe” growth-oriented environment
Lead your tech company organization, don’t direct it
Leadership means many things to many people; that’s a topic for a whole other article. But the most important point I want to make here is that if you want a high performing team, you usually need to give them room to operate and speak up when it’s called for. If subordinates aren’t treated with respect when they first speak up, you risk creating a “quiet” culture — one in which people are AFRAID to speak up. Management and leadership are complex topics with many different aspects. And there are times where “strong leadership” requires the setting of a direction from the top. But in my opinion, creating a culture where your people fear speaking truth to power leads to the greatest waste of human capital that’s possible in a tech company.
Make sure there are opportunities for growth
Without opportunities for growth, good people won’t stay. The hardest way to build a high-performing team is to be constantly rebuilding it. There is a natural amount of turnover in any company. A certain amount of turnover is even healthy, bringing in new blood and ideas. But when turnover becomes excessive, it’s hard to maintain a positive culture and a team that is firing on all cylinders. So plan employee growth into the hiring process of every position. Remember, employee growth opportunities don’t need to mean everyone has set their sites on being the CEO in the future. Not everyone can do that, or even wants to. But most humans don’t want to be repetitive machines expected to do the same job forever. Consider individual’s needs and desires for growth – but do consider growth for everyone.
What’s your approach to assembling the best possible tech company team? Not everyone will agree with my list and it is incomplete by definition. Please use the comment field below to fill us in on your own viewpoints and processes.
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