Growing Naked Teams (II)

by abclarke

(3b of 5 in The Rules of Naked Management)

Yesterday I talked about why you should use your team to grow your team. Today I talk about how I do it.

7 More Rules

Let’s pretend I convinced you that approaching hiring as a team sport is the way to go. How do you get your team to hire for you? Here are the 7 steps I like to follow:

  1. Know What You Want: Realistically define, with your team, what you need the new hire to be.
  2. Draw a Map: Define how you’ll approach recruiting, interviewing, rejecting and hiring.
  3. Install a Pacemaker: Get a hiring heartbeat going by meeting regularly with your interviewing team.
  4. Make Everyone Play: Make everyone on your team be an “eligible, responsible, and rewarded hirer.” No exceptions.
  5. Spoil Your Rejects: Be religious about making sure rejects hear back promptly.
  6. Tease Your Candidates: During negotiations, map out an initial career plan with your candidate.
  7. Run Past The Finish: Focus on the 90-days after a new hire start, not just their start date.

Let’s break them down.

Know What You Want

“Realistically define, with your team, what you need the new hire to be.”

This one is so obvious that most managers either blow past it or skip it. They’ve already got a job description, so they use that for the definition, or they create one from scratch without feedback from outside recruiters or their team. They send the job description to a recruiter and say “I want a Senior Engineer like this.” And then they get annoyed at the recruiter when either too few candidates appear or candidates come back that don’t meet their expectations. I’ve heard a lot of managers who make this mistake tell me their recruiter is not good, and that they need a better recruiter. Well guess what:

The recruiter didn’t fuck-up; the manager did!

The mistake made here can take many forms: the job description may have so many REQUIRED attributes that only Mother Theresa would qualify for the job; or the old written job description isn’t what you’re actually looking for, and you haven’t communicated adequately to your recruiters what it is you need; or the skills you’re looking for are no longer valued by the world, and you should be pushing your team to develop new skills.

Of all the hiring steps, this step is the most important. You should never skip this, even if you’ve hiring 100 call-center agents and looking to hire the 101st. You don’t need to spend long on it, but always do the following:

  1. If you haven’t written down a job description, write it down. If you have, read it again and ask yourself if it’s still what you’re looking for. If not, change it.
  2. Compare the written description to the stars on your team – what matches and what doesn’t? If your stars don’t have the “required talents” on your job description, chances are the talents aren’t required.
  3. If you haven’t shared the description with your team (who, as you’ll see later, will all be recruiters) and your recruiters, do it now. Listen to their feedback. Be particularly sensitive to comments like “wow! I don’t know anyone who has all these qualities.” Ultimately you own the definition, so take feedback and reject it if necessary, but always communicate your final decisions back to your team.
  4. At the end of each week, after reviewing the candidates you’ve screened that week, go back to your job description and ask is it still right. Let the market help you find the right definition. And if you change it, share the new definition and your thinking with your recruiters and interview teams.
  5. Group your ideal-candidate’s attributes into “must have experience”, “nice to have experience”, “must have talents” and “nice to have talents” and force yourself to make your “must have” lists as short as possible initially – that’ll give you more candidates to screen and more opportunity to determine what you really need.
  6. If you have a recruiter, ask to share screening duties with him or her, especially when you’re defining a new position. When you reject someone at screening, share the reasons why with your recruiter. Most manager ask their recruiters to do the initial screening calls for them, but this is a mistake when you either haven’t worked with that recruiter before or are recruiting for a brand new position. You don’t yet know what you need (even though you think you do) and doing screenings will help you narrow it down and get better leads from your recruiter.

If you do this, you’ll get a good definition of what you want in your head and on paper, and you’ll have a team around you who understands what you need. That’s the key to Team Hiring – everyone needs to have the same picture in their mind of the ideal candidate.

So, DEFINE WHO YOU’RE HIRING in order to avoid recruiting Mother Theresa or making other stupid communication mistakes.

Draw a Map

“Define how you’ll approach recruiting, interviewing, rejecting and hiring.”

Make sure you know how you’re going to interview. Even if you’re only going to hire one person, write down the steps you need to take between first screening and final hire and then spend time reviewing them with your team. Why?

  1. Writing down the process will help you identify who needs to interview (a tricky proposition in some organizations) and avoid last minute surprises.
  2. Writing down the process will help your interviewers know what they should be checking for during an interview, which leads to better coverage of candidates’ skills, and better interview experiences for your candidate.
  3. Writing down the process will let you give candidates some guidance about how you make this decision, which (if you follow your process) actually sells them on joining the company, joining your team, and being managed by you.
  4. Especially if you’re hiring a lot of people, writing down the process helps you identify key metrics to track to manage it (like pipeline size and referral rates).

Sure sure you say, that’s all good, but a “recruiting process” is too heavyweight if I’m only hiring one person. Really? It doesn’t have to be: here’s a 3-round process I’ve used before.

  1. Do one pipeline review per week (15 minutes) with recruiters.
  2. These people must interview every candidate: Bob, Alice and Ted; These people should be offered a 3rd round interview opportunity: Paul, George, John and Ringo.
  3. The hiring manager or recruiter phone screens and makes an interview/no-interview decision.
  4. First round has 3-4 interviews of 45 minutes each. Each interviewer covers a defined area that is assigned by the manager the day before.
    1. Each interviewer sends a e-mail ONLY TO THE HIRING MANAGER(1) immediately after the interview. The e-mail contains:
      1. “Hire or no hire” recommendation
      2. “Pros this candidate had for area covered”
      3. “Cons this candidate had”
    2. After the first round, the interview team meets for 15 minutes with hiring manager to make go/no-go decision. If “go” the team identifies 2-3 areas of focus for next round.
  5. Second round has 3-4 interviews of 45 minutes each. Each interview covers an identified focus area assigned by the hiring manager.
    1. Each interviewer sends an e-mail to ALL INTERVIEWERS after the interview. The e-mail contains:
      1. “Hire or no hire” recommendation
      2. “Pros this candidate had for area covered”
      3. “Cons this candidate had”
    2. After the second round, the interview team meets for 15 minutes with hiring manager to make go/no-go decision. If “go” the hiring manager sets up the last round.
  6. The third round is as needed by hiring manager, but usually includes hiring manager’s manager to help sell.

It’s really easy to train people on. You can delegate scheduling to someone else, but don’t delegate the screening. That process solidifies hiring, with some overhead.

If that’s too heavy weight for you, just do step 2 – write down everyone who must interview in order to make a decision.

Once you have a process in place, you look more professional to candidates, you get far better coverage of candidates, and you make fewer hiring mistakes. And you avoid a horrible thing I’ve seen at prior companies: I saw a candidate interviewed by 20 different people in order to make a “no-hire” decision! That’s 20 people * 60 minutes (interview + follow-up) at let’s say $100/hr of internal cost: that company spent $2,000 rejecting that candidate, whereas if they followed a process they could have made a higher quality reject or hire decision for less than $75 and for no more than $750.

(By the way, if after 6 to 8 interviews, you hear yourself thinking, “hmm… maybe I should have them talk to one more person…” you have a “no hire” on your hands. If you’re not gung-ho convinced your candidate is the right girl by interview 8, other people are only going to convince you to not-hire, never to actually hire. Save the time, and reject now)

So, after you’ve defined who you’re hiring, DRAW A MAP defining how you’ll hire them(2).

Install a Pacemaker

Once you’ve defined who you’re looking for, and how you’ll look for them, set in place some way to get momentum going. While you may feel tempted to just send out a “recruiting report” or manage by finding people in the hallway, I recommend against it. Hiring is one of those very important but non-urgent things to the folks on your team, so you need to be more in their face about it.

When I have to hire people, I install a pacemaker in three ways:

  1. I set up 15-minute meetings at the end of each day someone interviews. All interviewers are required to attend and have sent written feedback ahead of time. We discuss the candidate and make a quick go/no go decision.
  2. Once a week, I sit down with my outside recruiters (if I have them) and I invite anyone on the team to attend. I walk through an overview of all candidates we’re tracking, get recruiters feedback on skills they are seeing, and re-look at my role to make sure it’s still the right one.
  3. Once a week in my team meeting I give my team a brief overview of hiring progress, and ask for any leads.

That’s it, but it makes sure that hiring stays on the radar of your recruiters, your team, and most importantly, YOU!

Make Everybody Play

“Make everyone on your team be an “eligible, responsible, and rewarded hirer.” No exceptions.”

“Eligible?” “Responsible?” “Rewarded?” What the hell does that mean?

Well “eligible” means that everyone on the team can be scheduled to interview a candidate. Yes, even that guy on the team who is a loner… EVERYONE! Why is that? Well first off if everyone can interview, it makes it more likely they’ll ultimately buy into and help support a new hire when they start. Secondly, it ensures your candidates have the best view of what they’re actually getting into, and you’d rather identify any personality mismatches before hiring (when it’s cheap) than after (when it’s hugely and annoyingly expensive). And third it forces you to come face-to-face with problem areas in your own team – if you’re not comfortable having a current employee interview your prospective new team members, are you actually comfortable having that person on the team? Probably not, and you owe it to yourself to either manage that employee to be a good team member, or manage them out!

Sometimes I’ve had team members tell me they don’t want to interview because they don’t feel comfortable in that environment. Try to not accept this (sometimes you’ll have to though). Figure out why they’re uncomfortable, help them tackle it, train them on how to interview, do whatever it takes, but get them in the process. I’ve often found my best interviewers are those folks who initially told me they didn’t feel comfortable – it was because they had a tendency to ask more probing questions.

“Responsible” means every interviewer must treat the interviewee with respect by being on time, prepared with their questions, sending prompt feedback, and attending decision meetings. This sends a strong message to candidates (see “spoil your rejects”) that you’re a quality organization – it’s the first impression they’ll get.

“Rewarded” means everyone on your team is rewarded for referring leads. Sometimes your company will do this for you (with bonuses or options for every new hire) but if they don’t do that, institute your own reward program. Offer people 3 long weekends for every time they refer someone you hire and keep onboard for six months (worried about how you’ll cover that promised time off; just have the new employee cover them and it’ll actually help your new guy learn new skills).

If you define what you’re looking for, define how you’ll hire, get a pacemaker installed, and make everybody play, you’ll find your team is now recruiting as hard, if not harder than you. Excellent! Now to get even better at it.

Spoil Your Rejects

“Be religious about making sure rejects hear back promptly.”

I view this one like Willie Bratton’s Broken Windows theory. One of the famous changes he made to the NYPD when starting to tackle crime was to have officers focus on small but visible crimes such as graffiti, subway-turnstile-jumping and breaking windows. This sent a message to criminals that if small stuff isn’t allowed, don’t even begin to think about larger crimes.

So assuming you’ve done the prior 4 steps, your team should now be recruiting for you. Now, spend some time making sure you’re handling your rejects promptly and respectfully.

  1. It demonstrates to your team that you value their referrals – you’re personally getting back to each of them.
  2. It demonstrates to the people you reject that you’re a quality organization. And they in turn will tell that to other people which helps your company’s brand in the hiring marketplace and may also get you leads. Think I’m full of shit? I’ve actually hired at least 2 people who contacted me because “you interviewed my friend and passed on her, but she called me and said I might be a good fit.”
  3. By focusing on this loose end, your team will expect you’re even more focused on the candidates who are in-process, and hence will put even more priority on it.

It took me a while to realize this, but I’m now sold on it. I’ve gotten so many good referrals from my internal employees because of this policy, and I’ve gotten a lot of referrals from the people I’ve rejected as well. Here’s how I do it:

  1. I tell each candidate in each interview when they should hear back by. And then I stick to it.
  2. Every lead not referred by an internal employee hears back in e-mail or via phone on their status. If they were screened I get back to them by phone, but if we just rejected the resume without a screen it’s by e-mail. I check that this is happening in my recruiting / pipeline review meeting (if the recruiters are doing the rejecting).
  3. Any candidate referred by an internal employee hears back by phone. From me. And I actually tell them why we’re passing. I usually tell them 2-3 things the team really liked, and then follow up with “but ultimately we decided to pass because…” and I lay out explicitly why. Some candidates will argue we’re wrong, but most respond with something like “wow… thank you. I’ve never had someone tell me why they passed before”. I then ask them if they would be willing to recommend someone for the position and if so, do they have any names.

If you’ve successfully Spoiled Your Rejects, the people you reject for a position walk away thinking, “damn it…. I wish I had have gotten hired there” rather than “assholes…” and your recruiting pipeline will fill up faster.

Tease Your Candidates

“During negotiations, map out an initial career plan with your candidate.”

By now you probably have at least one to two candidates who you think might be good candidates, so time to tease them a little. I don’t mean call them names; I mean give them a little taste of what it’s like to work for you. I do this by mapping out in each interview a preliminary plan for where they want to grow their careers.

I’ll talk about how I do that next week (I follow the same steps with new hires and existing hires), and you probably have your own way of doing it, but most career plans have a 2-3 year goal with some envisioned steps or skills that should be acquired to get there. Find out where your candidate wants to take their career; envision some steps with them; and commit it to writing.

Now, once you’ve done that, look carefully at the plan. If your organization is not a good place for them to achieve their plan, REJECT THEM RIGHT NOW! Don’t kid yourself that “you’ll find a way;” pass quickly. On Naked Teams you want ambitious people, but you need them to have a chance of achieving their goals. If not, you’ll have a de-motivated employee that you’ll waste lots of time trying to keep happy and who may poison your team morale. You’re doing your team, and the candidate, a disservice by hiring them.

But if their career plan is realistically possible in your organization, let them know that you cannot guarantee anything about career progression, but you will work with them to try to achieve the goals. This exercise achieves 3 very important things:

  1. It demonstrates to your candidate that he’s got better than 50/50 chances of getting opportunities to grow in his job. As a result, you’ll often be able to hire people for less money than competing companies.
  2. It helps you identify early any problem candidates with unrealistic expectations (I once had a project manager candidate tell me during this phase that he planned to move to sales within 6 months of joining my team – not a good sign).
  3. It gives you a leg-up on their first day on how to direct their training.

Run Past The Finish

“Focus on the 90-days after a new hire start, not just their start date.”

Recruiting and hiring is a lot of work, and once someone accepts an offer, I have a tendency to see it as an opportunity to “take a breather.” But the reality is you won’t know if you’ve made a good hire for at least 90 days, so you need to make sure you keep your focus on the new hire at least that long.

Here are some things I try to do to keep the focus on the first 90-days:

Before I hire someone, I (or someone I delegate to) come up with a new hire training plan. At a minimum it consists of:

  1. A list of good books and reading materials.
  2. Links to any sales materials about the product or service I work on.
  3. Names, titles, job descriptions, and good topics of conversation of other people in my company that the new hire should meet with in the first 90 days.

I also assign a “buddy” on my current team who they are to use as their “how do I do XYZ” person. I give the buddy a budget to take the new hire out to lunch every 2 weeks. It’s preferable to have a peer do this to get your new guy incorporated into the team, but if you don’t have someone who can spare the time, you have to do it. If your new hire already has to work with someone on your team (perhaps because they are on the same project), then still assign a buddy but choose someone in a different area. Part of the reason to pick a buddy is to expand their network quickly in the first 90 days.

You can get a lot more formal than this, and if you’re going to increase your team size by more than 25% in a six month period, you should put more focus on training, but I always try for a barebones starting point.

Once someone has been hired, I try to meet with them once every 2 weeks at least (I’d prefer once a week, but historically I’ve been really bad at making that). I also take them to meet some of the people on their training list, especially the people I think might turn down a meeting with a new hire without my smiling face right there J.

But mostly I watch, try to offer help, and presume that any stumbles in the first 90-days are my fault not the new hire’s fault, and address accordingly.

And after 90-days, I ask was the hire a good hire or not. I’ve never found myself on the fence when I do this; it’s usually pretty damn obvious whether you have a stud or a dud on your hands. If it’s a dud, get him or her out as quickly as you can (PURE(3) employees are a fact of life). If it’s a stud, and you’ve been managing a naked team, you’ll find they’re swimming on their own, doing an awesome job, and generally making everyone around them look good.

Growing Individuals

I’ve had a lot of success running Naked Teams, and then using that team to do team-hiring. While it’s hard work up front, the day-to-day management is a joy. But Running Naked Teams and Growing Naked Teams are not sufficient to keep your team running smoothly. In addition you must also grow the people on the team. That’s because by being transparent you’re already forcing people to grow, and as they see success, they will want to grow more. Like a plant that is left to grow in a small pot, without opportunities to change, your team members will either break their pot one day (i.e. quit) when you don’t expect it, or slowly wither in your organization for lack of opportunities to spread their leaves.

So you must spend some time growing individuals. But I’ll argue you should spend less time that most people tell you. Why? That’s in the Rules for Growing Individuals…

(which I’ll continue next week…)

– Art

I’m attempting (maybe) to run the NYC Marathon on November 4th for Team Continuum. Click here to donate.

(1) I usually have feedback from the first round only sent to the hiring manager to avoid people early in the day overly influencing people later in the round, and I schedule candidates so they have 15 minute breaks between interviews. If I get two e-mails that say “Don’t Hire This Idiot” then I interrupt the schedule and walk the candidate out early. For the second round I usually have all feedback shared in real time so the interviews get harder.

(2) One important note: just because you’ve got a process, don’t be afraid to bend it when necessary for the right candidate – just be wary when you do. Sometimes a competitive offer will force you to move outside the “right way”, and in that case, realize you’re taking a risk, but for the right candidate you should take that risk.

(3) PURE: Previously Undetected Recruiting Error