Delivering the Systems and Expertise You Need to Confidently Make Great Hiring Decisions
Conor Neill, a close friend of mine and a prominent Entrepreneur in Spain, wrote this short story below for the Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s blog. It’s a great reminder of just how important attitude is in hiring.
Two men, Bill and Frank, begin working at a hotel the same day. They are intelligent, educated and ambitious. The manager of the hotel greets them and hands them both doorman uniforms. They are to begin opening and closing the doors, helping with bags, flagging taxis, etc.
Bill thinks “Doorman? I am worth more than this! I could manage this hotel better than the current guy.” But he doesn’t have an alternative offer and he needs the money, so he does the job anyway. He maintains a pained grimace on his face and deals with customers and other staff in a negative way because he is “better than this.”
Frank, in contrast, thinks “Okay, doorman. It’s not what I had in mind, but hey, I get to spend some time outside, get to meet the customers, and I’ll learn about how this hotel works.” He sets to work with a smile on his face and finds that he quite enjoys the small challenges he faces as a doorman at such a prestigious hotel.
After six weeks, a position at the front desk opens up, and the hotel manager immediately thinks of Frank. Frank is promoted and immediately brings his positive attitude to the front desk of the hotel. Several years later, Frank is the hotel manager. He leaves late one evening and there, opening the door with a hard-wired grimace, is Bill.
Is it luck, or is it fate? Bill will spend forever in a job that he hates and Frank will love every job that he is given. This story is such an inspiration, because it encourages me to always stay positive about my responsibilities and to find the reward in every remedial task. When hiring staff I spend more time exploring attitude and self-motivation than I do exploring capabilities. I also spend time looking to direct my employees toward challenges that are motivating for them.
When it comes to running a business, I’ve learned it’s not just about the results, but the work you put in. That’s where successful people thrive.
In case you haven’t noticed, the hiring freeze that seemed to overtake the our nation over the last 14 months is thawing, just in time for Spring.
Here are a few of the articles that I’ve noticed in the past few days that suggest it’s time for you to pay attention and get your act together because it’s going to be time for you to start RECRUITING instead of ABSORBING…soon.
- Upstaged by Younger Rivals, Google aims to Get Hip again [LINK]
- Demand for Programmers has returned and Start-Ups are out of luck [LINK]
- Microsoft is spending 10x that of Apple to Recruit and still struggles [LINK]
- There are more than 1,000 Job Postings with the word “Java” in them on Monster [LINK]
- The same keyword results in >8,000 on CareerBuilder [LINK]
The next BLS survey isn’t due until February 4, 2011 but the statistics will continue to hold true, while there is a nationwide unemployment rate of between 9-10%, the unemployment rate for college graduates is around 5% and about 2% for married college graduates.
It’s time to get your game faces on or you’re going to be forced into hiring people in the very bottom of the barrel.
And if you haven’t checked it out GlassDoor yet, you should. Your current and former employees are talking.
You’ve been warned.
The following letter was written by a fellow Entrepreneur who needed his top Technical Talent to really understand what he was getting into by asking to take on the role of CTO as the company continued to grow. I’ve taken out any personally identifiable information but I DIDN’T remove any of the CEO’s requests because I wanted each of you that read this blog on a regular basis to be able to see how well thought out this is and how he did such a good job of explaining his vision for the role, what it would take for the current employee to move into that role and what they would be responsible for. But he didn’t stop at that, he gave him options! Proactively realizing that it would be likely that the employee wouldn’t want the role of CTO after seeing what went into it, he described the four other roles that the employee should consider pursuing instead so that the employee didn’t read this and get the wrong message that maybe he wasn’t “wanted” any more.
There’s a lot that everyone, including myself, can learn from how well this CEO communicates.
A CTO’s role and responsibilities
A Chief Technical Officer is an executive-level position in a company who is focused on technological issues within an organization. It typically involves overseeing Research and Development activities, and formulating long-term visions and strategies at the officer level.
CTO’s focus on planning, budgeting, and business management. They see technology as a tool to solve business problems. In my option, the challenge we’re currently facing is that we view technology like a toy – one that we enjoy playing with but not focusing on its real purpose – to finance our team and solve business problems (with a focus on the finance). We solve problems with technology, we respect it, we enjoy working with it, can sell it, but there is a higher order ROI (Return on Investment) and applicability function that a CTO must perform. And that’s where I see us coming up short.
What it takes to be a great CTO
Admittedly, we’re both inexperienced with defining this particular role. To compound the issue, you haven’t been part of a bigger company to observe what a CTO does. You don’t know what you don’t know yet. If you’re restless and in a rut, this may surface in future challenges as well in terms of how you perceive your value. I learned long ago that technology is perishable and you have maybe 6-8 years of being a super geek before you need to reinvent yourself or face becoming obsolete. And with the extreme changes in technology, that window is getting smaller and smaller. To take the next step in your career development, I suggest changing your perspective. Perhaps try thinking the following ways:
- Think bigger. Be responsible for the transformation of capital – be it monetary, intellectual, or political – into technology to further our objectives. You must combine your strong technical background with business development skills in order to create and monitor business value from IT assets.
- Think differently. I get the impression that you’re struggling with knowing what our business is supposed to be. Simply put, it’s a machine that solves problems for money. Period. We need to accept and remember business fuels technology. Technology does not fuel the business.
- Think strategically. Start looking at things differently. Technology is nothing more than a tool that is used to solve business problems. As a corporate officer, your primary concern should be long-term strategy and “big picture” issues while still having deep technical knowledge of the relevant fields we occupy.
How do you get there?
Becoming a great CTO and technology leader is going to require you to at least double the amount of effort you’re currently putting in – and that’s no exaggeration. There’s a lot you’ll need to learn. This requires a great deal of restraint and will force you outside of your comfort zone. I realize this will not happen overnight. But, I believe in you, and if you want to take the next step in your career development, here are the things you’ll need to do.
- Read every day. You must set aside time every day to read blogs, newsletters, books and magazines. This is non-negotiable. Put the time on your calendar, shut off your phone, IM, email, etc and read.
- Better communicate your vision. Be more proactive in what you want the team to accomplish, what our product should do, and what you hope it can achieve. You’re the driving force with building our product suite, and it needs to show! This needs to be done on a daily basis. You must reinforce your views every day.
- Know the competition. You should be able to rattle off a list of our competitors without hesitation. You should be able to tell me exactly what they’re doing, who they’re targeting, what kinds of features and benefits they have, and how we’re different and better than them.
- Know the players in the space we occupy. You should be obsessed with our marketplace. You should be able to list off every major company out there we could possibly do business with. You need to know how their technology works and how we can work with it.
- Know the latest technology trends. You must be up to date on the latest platform decisions whether it’s .NET or PHP. You need to have a view on whether Ruby on Rails is worth the hassle. What I’m getting at is technology is changing very fast. You don’t want to be left with an obsolete skill set in case .NET falls out of favor and/or something better comes along. The only way to prevent this is to know what’s happening now and what’s coming down the road later.
- Forge relationships with the players in the space we occupy. You need to get out there. You need to become comfortable in the role of wearing the company’s public face when it comes to all things technology. This will require you to start proactively talking to people and introducing yourself to them. Start attending trade shows and conferences, contribute to discussions on online forums, find people on LinkedIn and introduce yourself. Consider even taking a public speaking class through your local Toastmasters club.
- Meet other CTO’s. Start rubbing elbows with people like you at other companies.
- Properly manage and mentor the team. This means you must make time every day to meet with your team to discuss issues and roadblocks, discuss technology trends, and get to know them better. In addition to, I suggest meeting every other day to or two times a week to do code review as well.
- Travel to our office at least once a month. I’m not convinced what we are doing can be done remotely. Being successful will take a herculean effort. As such I’d like you to plan on spending most of your time here each time working face-to-face with the guys.
- Find a mentor. I highly suggest a mentor. That’s the only way you can be sure that the CTO role is right for you. You’ve got to talk to someone who actually does it. I certainly haven’t been a CTO but I have worked alongside them. It’s a demanding job and not right for everybody.
- Take ownership and be more accountable. You know what’s required to get the job done, not me. You have to enforce deadlines and dates. This is what successful companies demand. We can’t be any different otherwise we’ll always miss our deadlines and dates.
Do you still want to be CTO?
As you see, it takes a ridiculously large amount of work and discipline to be a CTO. I’ve never faced this issue before and it isn’t easy. But being in it now and seeing how much is required of a CTO, I don’t want to presume that this is something you want to be. I’d like you to reflect on my suggestions above and work with me to define what role you want to play in the company.
Other roles for you to consider
I want to help you find out what you love doing while being careful at the same time not to pushing you into something that you’re not, or not ready for. If you decide the CTO hat is not for you, I want you to consider the following alternatives:
1. The Lead Architect – Every great technology startup needs one of these – this is not unique to our company. If we don’t have somebody inside our organization that is setting the technology direction then I’m convinced we’ll never head for greatness. Either our core is innately technical or it’s not. It’s what makes Google, Google and Facebook, well, Facebook.
I believe that every great technology startup has the technology visionary inside the company. This needs to be you! You not only need to own all the technology but you need to dictate what it is we’re building and why – every day.
Trying to work without this person is like wanting to build a world class sky scraper but not having a great lead architect and civil engineer. They provide the vision for our infrastructure. The problem that many inexperienced startup CEO’s like me make is confusing these people for the people who lead the technology team. Most often they are not. The deepest thinkers on technology architecture are seldom good team leaders. They often aren’t great at planning development work. The best technologists often aren’t amazing people managers. Sometimes they are introverts.
2. VP Engineering – First and foremost, a VP of Engineering is a people manager. They have the respect of their team because they’re technical by training. But they’re that rare breed that also understands the human element. They know how to motivate their people. They know how to get people to hit deadlines. They know when it’s OK to push hard for the team to hit a deadline even if it means yet another all-nighter or weekend. And they know when to tell me (the CEO) to shove it because the team has reached maximum stress / effort. A great VP of Engineering manages me (the CEO) as well as the team below him.
In my view it is important to distinguish the difference between the CTO and the VP Engineering. The VP of Engineering is the person who still has great technical chops but prefers not to be a developer.
The VP Engineering aspires to manage teams. They feel comfortable with C# but are also whizzes in Excel. They are sticklers about managing unit tests, system tests and regression tests. In fact, they’re passionate about automating testing overall. They know how to estimate work units, how to manage the agile development process and how to get the most out of their teams. VP’s of Engineering are essential to making sure the trains run on time. The VP of Engineering is also our company’s primary interface to our future head of product management and often the VP of Engineering is somebody I would bring with me to meet clients and to win big deals.
3. Program Manager – This title almost sounds like a consultant’s job. It is not somebody that we need just yet. However, it is one of the more critical roles as we scale our company. As we head into the phase where we get real customers paying real money for a period of time we’ll have a whole new set of issues. Examples include:
- Every time you release new features you need to update our technical documentation
- Updating our marketing documents including our website
- Somebody needs to be sure that customer service is alerted to the new features and are trained in how to handle these functions with customers
- New features need to be rolled into PR strategies and competitor analyses
- New features need to be documented so the rest of us know the latest and greatest about how to differentiate from the competition.
Many startups have never faced these challenges because they haven’t hit scale. Trust me, as we grow these issues become the key to winning large customers and keeping them happy.
4. Lead Developer – This person is the most senior of all developers on staff. They are typically the go-to person on projects they are assigned. Their entire function in the company is to product top-tier code while acting as a mentor to other developers that are more junior.
The lead developer typically reports to a CTO or VP of Engineering and is a key part of their team.
In summary I hope this didn’t scare you away. On the contrary I’m here to help you. You’re an incredibly gifted and talented individual that does so many things right. At the same time, however, you have a lot to learn and achieve. We both do. I hope this letter identifies what steps we need to grow this company and helps you to reach your full potential.
Last week The Economist had an article in their Print Magazine that was titled, “You’re hired – next year“. I found to it be a lot of window dressing and likely written to attract eyeballs more than provide real value. However, there were a couple of things in the article that were worth noting:
“According to a survey carried out by Watson Wyatt, a consulting firm, three-quarters of American companies have implemented a hiring freeze.”
“The hiring of freelancers and consultants has become more common, allowing companies to avoid spending on employee benefits and delay hiring decisions until the economy picks up.”
“When they do take on new employees, companies are taking longer to make an offer, knowing that they no longer have to move fast to prevent competitors from stealing their prospective hires.”
The first data point, while it likely won’t surprise you, is still very shocking. There are nearly 5 million unemployed Americans right now and 75% of companies aren’t allowing new hires. This combination does make me wonder what Ben Bernanke was smiling about today…
The second data point, again, won’t come as any surprise at all. The reason I pulled out for the purpose of this blog is to emphasize the guidance that I’ve shared with a number of colleagues. If you’ve got needs right now for work that can be done by freelancers, it’s very possible to get $1 worth of work for $.25 these days. It’s not because Freelancers are lowering their rates. Rather, I’ve found that it’s because hiring a graphic artist (as an example) for a 10 hour project is much easier to do these days and, if you hire a Freelancer who doesn’t have anything else to do, there’s a very high likelihood that they’ll put 15 or 20 hours into the project simply to fill up their day and occupy themselves.
Lastly, the third quote that I called out of the Article is another example of just how clueless the media is about the labor market these days. It’s absolutely true that if you’re competing for a perpetually lazy clock-puncher who is guaranteed to bring no value to your organization and poison your culture, you can take as long as you want to hire them without fear of competition. But if you’re looking for top talent, even in this marketplace, you’re going to have to fight. A real life example: one of our clients needed to hire a Service Delivery expert in the NYC area while the S&P was at its absolute low earlier this year. The prospective employee they really wanted had been on the market for 3 days because the company he was with had shut down when it ran out of funding. By the time they “won” the chance to add him to their team he had 3 other offers.
I love analogies and I’ll end with this to drive home my point and also show my love of baseball: there are never scalpers selling tickets for more than face value outside of the stadium in Kansas City in September. Conversely, good luck getting a single seat at Fenway during the same period of time for anything less than twice the price printed on the ticket.
I continue to hear from Recruiters, Journalists and even Business owners that now is a great time to pick up talent because of how high the unemployment rate is. I’ve written in the past about how I think that now is a great time to be RECRUITING as well but not because of the growing number of the unemployed. I’m not going to re-hash that here. Instead, this post is going to focus on what Jack Daly considers the difference between Recruiting and Absorbing.
I’d like to start by sharing that I live in Austin, TX (yes, it is as cool as you’ve heard). In this town we’re proud of live music, barbeque and, probably above all, Longhorn Football. Mack Brown is the Head Coach (aka the CEO) of the team.
Right now, spring practices are done and the coaching team is spending all of their time figuring out (1) what’s our depth chart for the fall (2) who are the top High School Sophomores at each position in Texas and the US and (3) how are we going to convince young men from around the country to pay us $300+ to come to our camp so that they can be seen by our coaches when every other school in the country wants them to do the same?
The reason I brought up point #3 is because it’s not unlike the current marketplace for Businesses looking to land top talent. How? Hundreds of young men will descend upon Austin in the coming weeks and happily throw down their $300 camp fee. While the coaching staff has a responsibility to treat every camper fairly by providing them with a safe place to stay, healthy food and some nominal feedback about how to improve, it’s the 8-10 players that they personally invited in for the camp that they are focusing their attention on. Every once in a while a young man who shows up and was unheralded impresses the coaches and gets a shot scholarship but it’s rare.
I hope you’re seeing the direct parallel between the people who are applying for jobs at your company as opposed to the people who you have to fight to get.
With that in mind, let’s go back to Mack Brown’s role in this recruiting process. Because he has the advantage of knowing who the top 10 Prep Quarterbacks or Linebackers are by subscribing to the industry publications that track this data, he can carefully place phone calls to these young men to get them excited about the program.
Focus because here’s the crux of the blog post: After Mack Brown gets off the phone with a young man who he’d like to see as his starting quarterback in 2011, do you think he sends that 16 year old a copy of a job description for what a Quarterback does?
Let’s bring it all back to your business: here are the 5 questions you have to ask YOURSELF when recruiting and then share with your “top recruits”:
1. Why come to work here?
2. What are we (as a company) doing to ensure that our team is successful?
3. How can you (our prized recruit) be sure that the reputation of our company is exceptional?
4. Where is our greatest opportunity for growth in the marketplace?
5. What are the most compelling reasons to join the team here?
If you’ve read the book Who you would know that these are also part of the 5 F’s (Fame, Family, Fortune, Fun and Fit). By asking yourself these questions as the CEO or Hiring Manager you’re attempting to proactively answer a lot of these concerns that a recruit would have.
If you’d like to pick up a great book for the weekend and learn how college football is answering each of these questions, check out Meat Market: Inside the smash mouth world of College Football Recruiting by Bruce Feldman.
Bonus food for thought: if Mack Brown needed a starting quarterback in 2011 and he didn’t start thinking about it until 2 weeks before the season started, would he start placing ads on CraigsList with the hopes someone would apply that he could hire?
Tags: 5 F's, A-Player, A-Players, Austin, bruce feldman, Fame, Family, Fit, Fortune, Fun, geoff smart, hiring manager, jack daly, longhorn football, mack brown, proactive recruiting, recruit don't absorb, recruiting versus absorbing, talent acquisition, unemployment, unemployment rate, who the book
We’ve had three client meetings on-site in the last few days. All three of these meetings were tremendous and remind us about why we do this. It got me thinking: what makes a great client for American Workforce?
1. They understand that people aren’t widgets that can be manufactured. Some weeks might produce 5 qualified people who could be great in a role. Some months might produce no one!
2. They realize that the cost of a mis-hire is a lot more damaging to their company than trying to hire too quickly or trying to save money on the front end by cutting corners on talent assessment.
3. They only want to hire amazing people. Really, for them it isn’t just lip service. They’ve analyzed their needs, they’ve built an environment that makes it incredible for people to work in, and they’re willing to be patient until the perfect A-Player is identified.
4. They “Aim High in Steering”. Remember Driver’s Ed in High School? You’ll drive your car into a tree if you are staring at the steering wheel. When you can look down the road and understand what your needs are going to be 3, 6, 9, 12 months out you’re much more likely to get exceptional people instead of just the ones that are looking for jobs on that particular day.