Securing talent is always challenging, but for me, hiring for a start-up is the most difficult. You can explain till you’re blue in the face that when you’re doing something brand new, you’re going to be faced with uncertainty. But even then, it often still comes as a surprise to some when they are faced with the reality of the startup world.
Startups, either by design or due to scale, are usually flat in structure, with business units working very closely together and with most employees roles involving a balance of strategy and execution. This is true at Weploy and when we’re aiming to 3 times our revenue this year we have to think big. Small iterative changes just won’t cut it. This in turn, means employees often find themselves working in project teams, managing and influencing stakeholders. When I looked at Weploy over the past 12 months and how we achieved our success so far, the main defining characteristic of the individuals that make up Weploy was great stakeholder management skills.
So I decided to try and codify the traits and turned this into a scorecard to help me find the right person to join Weploy, whether it’s for a Coordinator, or Head of Marketing. You may notice that the one thing all these skills have in common are that they are best performed human to human, and would be difficult to automate or learnt by machine.
First off is the ability to make decisions and being able to clearly articulate the process of decision making. When people struggle with decisions or look to always create consensus, this can be the death of any project. But it’s also important that decisions are made with accountability. Owning failures, whilst being able to offer learnings that the business can implement in the future. I hate the idea of embracing failure wholesale - failure is only useful if it’s not due to incompetence and you know how to avoid similar pitfalls in the future.
Being decisive definitely does not mean you don’t look for collaboration. There’s an interesting study that showed two heads is sometimes not as good as one… paradoxically it can lead to less collaboration! But in general, good stakeholders always start by thinking about who should be involved at different stages of a project. Collaboration is a skill and good collaboration is a managed process rather then just wanting to get input from anyone and everyone. Which leads on to...
The desire to collaborate means nothing if you are unable to get alignment and buy in from different stakeholders. The most important element of communication then becomes what information should be presented to different people and how often. There’s tools such as the stakeholder matrix which help you understand how proactive communication about a project should be. But it’s also essential that you are able to tailor the content based on the seniority and the stakeholders’ own objectives.
When I talk about leadership with more junior candidates they can sometimes look puzzled. There’s many good resources on leading without authority, but what I’m looking out for is - how they build trust. For me the foundation pillar to leadership at any seniority is trust - people have to trust in you and your decision making.
Closely related to leadership is leverage, and from what I’ve found, is where a lot of more experienced managers fall down. What I look for is someone who is always thinking about generating and sustaining momentum. Often it’s easy to take on more work to achieve goals but you can only scale this activity so far. I’m always looking for people who think how to empower others so the sum of their efforts is multiplied.
What’s really interesting as well - when we look at the characteristics that our top performing Weployees exhibit - we see traits such as collaboration, influence and learning ability most highly correlated.
So that’s my roundup of the core traits I look for in candidates at Weploy. But these are not skills that are exclusive for success within startups. In fact, many of these traits were the same I looked for when I was at LinkedIn and at previous roles. For me, in both large enterprises and emerging business, stakeholder management skills - those which cannot be performed by machines, are critical to achieving big goals in the Future of Work. I’ll conclude this blog with a question - what’s your favourite interview question to ask candidates? I always love asking this question and stealing the best ones for myself!