Big Red Car here. It’s right at 35F headed to 65F today. Can’t wait for the sun to get into the game today. [I’m tired of winter. Hahahaha, Big Red Car, you don’t know about winter. Those poor folks in the South are really suffering, so STFU already, Big Red Car.]
So The Boss has had several conversations with his brilliant CEOs about the issue of hiring key employees.
This conversation is intended to focus on those key top management employees who are not really co-founders but the first critical employees that a startup hires to fill out its management team.
If the founders are product and tech folk, then the first key employees may be marketing oriented. They are the people who bring the savvy that is not provided by the original founders.
These are people who will be very critical to long term success of the enterprise but were not there when the fire was lit by the founders. They will tend that fire and build it into a glorious blaze.
The founders of any company bring to it the zeal of an entrepreneur — that sense of taking off your socks when the hot coals are burning with the desire to be first in line to walk across them. You can’t help yourself, it is in your DNA. Do not fight it.
Understand, however, that everyone does NOT have that similar zeal. Good team members all, but no Marshal’s baton in their knapsacks. Know this and don’t fight it.
You entrepreneurs are special. Your key employees may not be wired similarly. That is perfectly normal.
That is not to say they will not make founder like contributions to the overall success of the enterprise but they will be co-pilots not chief pilots. They will still want to get paid and treated well but they do not wake up at 4:00 AM with a pain in their stomach worrying about the business. In some ways you should envy them — well, until the pay window opens up.
Most of the very best folks — the special people you are trying to attract to your special team — are already gainfully employed and therefore your search for these key employees is going to be complex and difficult. You are looking many times to pry someone from an otherwise attractive arrangement into a place on your team which will have to by definition be more attractive. This is not easy work and when CEOs complain of the degree of difficulty — welcome to the majors, rookie.
Key employees make such decisions based on a number of things which may not necessarily be apparent at first blush.
1. Geography is often critical — been watching the weather news lately? That guy from Southern California is going to be a very tough hombre if your company is located in Chicago. Hey, you knew that, right?
On the other hand that guy from Chicago may be an easy sell if you are located in the ATX (Austin, By God Texas, ya’ll!). It can work both ways but know how it is working in your situation.
2. Family ties — it is just as important to know where the family ties are rooted as it is to consider geography. They are related. Want to lure a guy to NYC whose wife is from Dallas? Good luck. She will not stay in NYC over the long haul. She is going back to Dallas. The big investment banks wrestled with this for years before ultimately just giving up. Dallas girls will make their way back to Dallas. Folks with strong family ties will gravitate to the closest proximity possible.
3. Multiple careers — you are not just hiring one person anymore because many spouses have strong career considerations themselves. Be sensitive and knowledgeable as to how your proposed move is going to impact the spouse’s career. Spouses often have veto power over such things. Court the spouse simultaneously and know that if you are asking someone to curtail their career your chances of success are dramatically diminished.
4. School age kids — it is very tough to make a move without knowing exactly what school your children will be attending in the new location. Work this out ahead of time. First contact really. Folks will want to coordinate moving dates with school calendars. This can be a deal killer.
5. Housing — there is probably no more important consideration than the quality of the before v after housing implications. If you are in an expensive housing market, you are going to have to overcome that objection — we are talking $$$ here, Old Sport.
If you are in a comparatively lower cost of housing market — good for you. That move from Southern California to Austin may work to your advantage.
6. Culture — culture is a kissing cousin of housing. Once you get there, what are you going to do there? Know your candidate’s interests and factor that in from the beginning.
The above considerations suggest that you are going to have to dig a bit deeper and conduct some pre-hiring due diligence to understand where you stand on these and other critical issues. Good, you understand the process and it is a process.
The Boss is a fan of head hunters but only if you can get someone who is sensitive to your needs and responsive. This is a very small number of those whose shingle says “Head Hunter”. Know this.
Also, a damn good head hunter can provide you with real world info as it relates to market compensation, benefits, short term incentive compensation and long term incentive compensation.
Know that you will only get what you pay for — nothing more. The really, really good ones are expensive particularly those who are intimately knowledgeable about startup realities. This is an area of specialization.
Always be hiring
It is trite to say but a CEO must always be networking and hiring for the next 12 months. Look out for a year and anticipate your talent needs and be constantly looking for that talent.
You cannot overdose on talent. [You sure about that, Big Red Car?]
A good compensation package includes salary, benefits, short term incentive compensation, long term incentive compensation and something special.
This is the market and you have to be competitive to be, well, competitive. Know this.
If you are asking someone to relocate, you will also need to ensure that relocation does not become a net expense to the new employee. Otherwise, you will not make that deal. Start with this notion as your base line — “…it will cost you nothing to move to Richmond. Nothing because we will pick up everything.”
Do not feel that you are being generous but it OK to know that you are being smart.
Local v remote
As you read much of the above, it is perfectly fair to note that some of these problems evaporate if you are hiring locally. That is a perfectly legitimate strategy and one that you should consider exploring as our first step toward hiring key employees.
Just make sure that there is such talent in your locality. Do not delude yourself.
That’s all there is to it, brilliant CEOs. Hire the best and use the best practices to do so. Don’t mislead yourself. Finding talent is tough, tough, tough work but hey, you’re the freakin’ C E O, right? You can do it.