The “dream team” is exactly that—a dreamy illusion. Most organizations spend years trying to build the right team. So next time a founder tells you his team is just the right fit for his organization, remember to ask that person how they got there. As it happens, the road to the “right-fit” organization happens through trial and error and a whole lot of hiring mistakes. We asked founders what counts as a bad hire and what they would do differently if they could do it all over again.
At SocialCops, we were first-time founders. We had never really built any of this. We were working in a space we had never worked in. We were 22 when we started hiring people. I think we were about 23 when SocialCops started scaling, and we didn’t know how to handle this. Our entire team was completely homegrown. All of us were sort of the same age, in our first jobs, and we sort of, at that point, started feeling that we need someone with more experience to come in and help us do this. We went and met these hirers, and I think that was probably one of the biggest mistakes that we made. We didn’t trust ourselves to do a lot of what we did, and then we hired based on experience and not based on skills, and I think it is very easy to do that. It is very easy to get sort of enamored by people’s titles and previous accomplishments, and this led us to some pretty bad hiring decisions. The biggest learning I took away from this was that every context is different; every company is different. Just because someone has been able to do something successfully somewhere else doesn’t mean that they can do it in your context. So always judge people by their actions, judge people by their skills, judge people by the conversations they can have with you, and the actual work that you see. Don’t judge anyone by titles, or experience, or any of that.
THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL MISTAKE WHICH ALL OF US HAVE MADE OR TEND TO MAKE IS THAT WE HIRE FOR PEOPLE AND NOT FOR THE ROLES.
– MANAV GARG
We made a lot of mistakes along the way. We had initially assumed that we could fit everyone into our culture and coach them, but some people are not coachable, and that led to many bad experiences. Some people really did not understand the product; in fact, that continues to be a problem today. People get excited about the company’s success, but they don’t really understand the core of the product, so they say things without really meaning them—that was always an issue.
So, yes, we did hire some people who we had to eventually part ways with, as they didn’t fit with the company. Sometimes we just hired people for an operational fit like in narrow roles; sometimes, though, that role was too specialized, too narrow, and we just learned that it was a bigger pain to fit those people into the pace of how we wanted to iterate; we were really turning the company to fit their weak points rather than harnessing the best talent. In some of those instances we could have (and should have) made faster decisions to part ways, which ultimately is often better for both the company and the employee.
I will tell you where things fall apart from my observation. When you have a lot of turnover in leadership, then there is no continuity. When you change the team’s head every year, you don’t have much of a team; you are rebuilding a team every year. There isn’t much that is going to come from that. There is a lot of management dogma that comes from the usual business school ideology—of professionalizing everything. To me, the word “professional” is problematic because it communicates that you have a bundle of skills and experience minus the human persona; there is no real person; it’s a résumé. It’s a bundle of skills! And when you manage teams that way, and your manager is that way, well, the spirit leaves that team and that’s when, in the long term, they fall apart.
THAT WORD “PROFESSIONAL” IS PROBLEMATIC BECAUSE IT COMMUNICATES THAT YOU HAVE A BUNDLE OF SKILLS AND EXPERIENCE MINUS THE HUMAN PERSONA.
– SRIDHAR VEMBU
- ORGANIZATION DESIGN FIRST
- FIT PEOPLE INTO ROLES NOT ROLES INTO PEOPLE
- YOUR DECISIONS AND ACTION WILL DEFINE THE CULTURE