What I Know About Hiring and Firing: Part 4

In this fourth installment of this series on hiring and firing in growth companies, I look at the importance of ‘developing’ job profiles.

4.       Sweat the role

The hiring process is one with broader implications. Effective hiring starts with an attempt to define the role.

That is not to say that the hirer must be hostage to the role defined.  In the context of a start-up, role creep is simply adjustments made for learning and for talented individuals that make you think again. No two individuals will execute the same role in exactly the same way.  Find the “right person” and you will find yourself adding specific responsibilities and reassigning others.

What the hirer must bear in mind is the overall structure within which the role resides. That structure is largely determined by the company’s business model. The organising principle simply states that the optimum organisational structure is the one the best enables the company to ‘create, deliver, and capture value’.  For entrepreneurial ventures (businesses under construction), this is the point of departure that must be periodically revisited as hiring accelerates. Once the business logic for a function is firmly established, focus down on the role.

In start-ups, roles are widely defined. As the business develops, the span of roles contracts, and more specialisation is required.  To be the best ultimately demands recruiting and/or developing specialists.

Start by trying to define the key outputs of the role. These will determine the responsibilities of the role and inform how performance will be measured.

Second, try and be clear about how these outputs are to be delivered. Map the processes. Even where these maps are sketchy, they provide an invaluable source of discussion with the candidates. What will differentiate a strong performer from a weak performer is their method and the process they follow ( though they won’t talk about it in such terms). Interrogate their experience: explore how they might tackle the challenge given your particular circumstances.

The great challenge, of course, of hiring in a start-up scenario is that the basic premise of recruitment cannot be fully adhered to.  Recruitment is basically about finding a fit (i.e. between a desired set of capabilities and an individual who has demonstrated these capabilities in similar circumstances).  Hence the importance placed on the job profile by recruiters. A detailed and “knowing” description of the profile is ideal.

And there is the rub: in the start-up scenario job profiles, like the organisation itself, are often works in progress. Rather, the preoccupation is an on-going search for what works and can scale. The need therefore is not for a perfect fit for an imperfect, partially defined role; it is for an individual who can pioneer, work out, and define the role. That is how start-ups flow: from roughly and broadly defined roles, through first attempt, partially defined roles, to well-defined roles. People who are well suited to start-ups love these pioneering rolse.  People from larger organisations, used to operating within tightly defined job parameters, rarely do.  That is why in the early evolution of the organisation,’ big’ to ‘small’ so often ends in failure.

Click on the links to view part 1, part 2 and part 3 of this series.