Business Technology

Sunday 31 August 2014

A hire calling – it's all about the people

Dylan Collins

Published 10/04/2014 | 02:30

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Dylan Collins: We make talent identification part of individual objective key results
US companies hired far fewer workers than expected

I keep threatening to write a book called 'If Only People Were Robots' about all the mistakes I've made around hiring and people management. Except it keeps getting delayed by discovering a whole new collection of mistakes and lessons.

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It's drilled into everyone that success is all about the people. Every founder blog post, every VC blog post, every incubator founder blog post says it. Hire rockstars. Get the very best. Find people who wouldn't ever look at you in the street and attempt to hire them. 'Avengers Assemble' and so forth.

The reality is that your team is probably okay. In other words, your team has a few average people, some of whom are good and maybe one who's close to brilliant. Don't feel bad – that's pretty normal (and you can do a lot with it).

One of your biggest challenges is that part of the team (at least) probably hasn't experienced 'brilliance' before.

But even if you can't hire them, just exposing your team to proper 'A' players can have an impact. For example, ask such an individual to come in for a lunch Q&A. For the younger ones (especially), interacting with a true baller shows them what talent exists and can inspire them to be a lot more. It's a good exercise. Hell, your lunch guest might even want to stay longer.

Unless you're a recruitment firm, hiring is an adjacent priority. And adjacent priorities are curious mental blind-spots that humans tend to have.

We can focus perfectly well on the industry-defined objectives but less so on the objectives behind the objectives.

One of the reasons I turned down an investment last year was because I didn't think the founder could hire well enough, not because of its product or its market. (While the jury is still out on that one, I think it was the right call.)

I continue to think that most companies (and VC funds for that matter) suffer from this adjacent priority problem.

Fundamentally, companies need to be hiring machines. But I bet you've built yours around the actual needs of your industry or customer, right? After all, it's the natural thing to do.

In a VC fund, investing stops being about the money roughly 30 seconds after you transfer the funds. From that point on, it's 90pc about the people, hiring and team management.

At Hoxton Ventures, we track talent-flow as well as dealflow. In SuperAwesome, we make talent identification part of individual objective key results (OKRs). But none of this is easy.

I have an ongoing argument with the CEO of a company I'm close to. It goes like this:

– "We need a dedicated person to hire people."

– "No we don't, because we're changing the nature of people's roles to include hiring."

I'm not sure he's totally right. But frankly I'm not sure I am either.

I was out with a friend of mine during the week. He's the CEO of a well-known consumer finance company and we were talking about hiring, specifically Product Managers (PMs).

He was able to list the top five PMs in Europe for his industry, which company they're in and some personal details about each. It's moments like that which make you realise you're NOWHERE with your hiring strategy and you need to do much, much more.

But at least it makes you get a sense of where the bar is.

I think somewhere between founding the company and having more than three customers, you need to be thinking about reconfiguring for talent discovery and hiring (two different things).

Think about these five questions right now:

1 Have you made a list of everyone (by name) you'd like to hire for each key position?

2 Have you made a list of all the equivalent positions in your competitors and what their background is?

3 Do you understand the key elements you need to look for and test in each of these positions?

4 Do you have access to people who have hired well?

5 What percentage of your week do you spend interviewing?

Number five kills me every time.

I try and spend about 15pc of my time interviewing. In practice, that often ends up being under 10pc. I think for a growing company, '20pc time' shouldn't be for personal projects. It'd be much better spent on interviewing and sourcing talent.

What's your percentage?

_______________________

Dylan Collins (@MrDylanCollins) is a technology and media investor. He is CEO of SuperAwesome, Europe's largest kids'/teens' digital marketing platform, and Venture Partner with Hoxton Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund based in London. He also sits on the boards of Potato (a leading marketing engineering agency) and Brown Bag Films (Europe's top kids' animation studio).

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