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  • Writer's picturePaolo Pironi

Ever Hired The Wrong Person? Here’s How You Probably Lied To Yourself (And How To Stop)

All Leaders unfortunately hire the wrong people sometimes, it’s natural - but is it possible to do it less often? And avoid the frustration, the wasted time and the missed opportunities?

Whether you’re a Leader who got only one single hire wrong, or one day you realised you had to make adjustments across your whole org (like yours truly sigh…), the method to avoid the potentially disastrous consequences is the same. Let’s dive into it.

When a Leader Doesn’t Know

According to Management best seller The Leadership Pipeline, perhaps the most important ability for a business manager is to realise when he/she doesn’t know the answer to a question. At this point, the manager has 2 choices: to look for the answer, or to hire someone who has the most appropriate skills and can afford the time to figure it out. If budget allows, the second option is almost always preferable. That’s why we build companies.

But if you don’t know the solution to a problem, and you’re not even skilled or knowledgeable in the problem area, how do you know what KIND of person you need to hire? And how do you vet candidates to ensure you select THE RIGHT ONE?

Strategy: A Beacon Through Chaos and Darkness

The single most important job for a Leader is to set a clear, concise Strategy. Unclear, flip-floppy Strategy is always at the root of the Org Design / Hiring problem - and of all problems that ultimately make young companies fail.

In fact, former P&G CEO A.G. Lafley wrote down how to use your Strategic choices to map and then build your org’s Core Capabilities. Your company is probably very different from P&G, so I’ve adapted his method to suit Pioneering companies like yours.

Let’s begin…

  1. Write the high level titles / roles of team members you need. To get this part right, you should start with your company’s Strategic Imperatives and then write down the roles of the people you need in place to pursue each of them (if you already have your company Strategy written in concise sentences, use those, otherwise read my quick Strategy guide designed for Pioneering company Leaders). You can see an example of this approach in the picture below.

  2. For each role, write 2-3 non-negotiable requirements. No need to write a full Job Spec yet, but you should know what characteristics are absolute must-haves. These requirements may include maximum salary, minimum seniority, past experience, industry connections, attitude, etc. 2-3 requirements maximum, if you feel you need more, you’re not crystal clear on the role OR you need more than one person

  3. For each role, write the name of your current employee that matches all non-negotiable requirements. Sometimes we already have the right people, but allocate them to roles that are wrong for the company (very common, very dangerous). If no current employee fits all criteria, write “TO BE HIRED”.

  4. Reality check: have one last look and ask yourself if you did a good job. Are your requirements realistic? Is the team you outlined too small or too big / expensive? If some current employees fit no roles, does it mean that you no longer need them or that you were unrealistic with your requirements? Etc.

  5. Iterate. If step #4 determined that your org chart isn’t right, repeat steps 1-4 until you’re happy with the result.

Make an action plan to achieve your ideal org chart

This is super exciting: you’ve just designed an org that perfectly aligns Strategic Imperatives and Core Capabilities, woo-hoo!

Well, despite the energising rush you must be feeling, I now have to ask you to… PAUSE and take your time. Gigi Levy-Weiss, General Partner at SF-based venture firm NFX, rightfully wrote that “the mantra of the startup world is speed, but hiring is the one area where it pays to take it slower because the cost of mistakes in hiring is much greater than running a failed experiment.”

You want to PLAN your next steps, which will include one or more of these:

  • Hire new employees: write the Job Specs (starting from the non-negotiable requirements you wrote in previous steps), engage Recruiters or recruit through other channels, onboard new team members

  • Transition existing employees to new roles: talk with them and ensure they are willing to commit to their new roles & responsibilities

  • Fire existing employees that aren't needed: this can be super hard, I understand, but doing it quickly (and gracefully) is often the best thing for both sides - nobody benefits from dragging on a work relationship that's no longer working

When it comes to Hiring new employees -especially when you have lots of cash to use from either fundraising or otherwise- beware of these super common pitfalls:

  • Hiring too many people at once, as you might not have enough bandwidth to get them all up to speed (but your recruitment and salary costs will soar overnight...)

  • Assuming you can hire and onboard people faster than you actually can: I used to make this mistake ALL THE TIME… look at how long these things took you in the past and be realistic!

So make a phased plan including timelines (and planning for delays) for:

  • Which roles to hire when

  • Which people to transition when

  • Which people to fire when

That’s all for today: good luck designing your ideal org! And as always, if you have questions on how to apply any of this to your company, let me know.

And subscribe here not to miss future articles where I'll cover how to select the right person from a pool of qualified candidates! (Spoiler alert: it’s not all about competence skills)

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