On leadership, hiring, vision, mission

A discussion or interview situation between a female and male person on a table outside with a laptop open.

In a startup or growing company it’s crucial to be transparent. Explain your company’s vision, brand core, brand claims thoroughly. State your mission at every all-hands meeting, make it a ritual with some variation to get the attention needed. Start every all-hands standup meeting by reminding people why they’re all here ultimately, what is it that you’re trying to change by your work. Customers, shareholder and stakeholder “don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it”. In some industry categories meaning and emotional density are more challenging to gain as a company and brand, but it’s worth the extra mileage and efforts as tool for intrinsic motivation through insight.

Every head counts

It can’t be stated enough how important in young, transitioning or distressed companies employees are. Every head counts in one, two and sometimes three digit staff numbers. A great recruiting process will generate great ROI. It doesn’t matter, if the role of the top recruiter is filled by a founder, investor or an specialist. Recruiting should be always, esp. with shortage of talent in some areas and regions and competition a top priority.

Random quotations on hiring, team and staffing:

“Always trust your founder instinct. You’ve sold Front to the first hundreds of customers, and you’ve done every job till now” - Jared Smith, Qualtrics

“Before you make an offer to someone, think about whether you’d like to have 10 times as many people like them in your company” - Patrick Collison, Stripe

Continuous feedback processes should ensure the complementary and cooperative composition of the teams. Bad apples should be neutralized promptly, best practice would be pre-hiring:

“There are no assholes here” - Founder, Family & Friends Office

“It’s better to have a hole in your org. than an asshole” - Laura Behrens-Wu, Shippo

Just in case, your company made a recruiting mistake. Empower your senior managment to make decisions, either to hire or let people go. Bad leavers should be guided by guard rails, good employees should be rewarded and turned into active ambassadors for word of mouth employer branding and future external cooperation partners:

“Give generous packages when you let go people” - Daniel Yanisse, Checkr

Best in practice recruiting principles

Amazon's leadership principles do make really sense. I personally like the very transparent process current FANG's leader Amazon implemented for their entire hiring. Clearly communicated steps in the recruiting process meet ambitious but feasible time windows. From the submission of the application to the first written contact in a match and the subsequent interview phases up to the decision with an offer, it often takes only a few weeks, sometimes only a few days. The pre-screening with 1-2 behavioral phone calls and the little assessment on location with 4-6 times 45‘ non-stop interviews and tests help to benchmark and stress test a little bit. While taking a few interviews in the FANG area myself a few years ago successfully, one important learning was, that e.g. Amazon is very specific and precise on their job role descriptions. If they have a fit, they'll stop the process and go with the candidate instead of interviewing another 3-6 months with the risk of losing an impressive and successful candidate. They don't waste ressources and wait – as we call it in Germany – for an eierlegende Wollmilchsau (jack of all trades, Swiss army knife) or other unicorns. For that reason, this is one of the most important rules, when your company scales or transforms:

“Hire and develop the best: Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.”

Amazon's leadership principles

01: Customer obsession

Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

02: Ownership

Leaders are owners. They think long term and don't sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that's not my job.”

03: Invent and simplify

Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here.” As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.

04: Are right, a lot

Leaders are right a lot. They have strong business judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.

05: Learn and be curious

Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.

06: Hire and develop the best

Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.

07: Insist on the highest standards

Leaders have relentlessly high standards—many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high-quality products, services, and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

08: Think big

Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

09: Bias for action

Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

10: Frugality

Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.

11: Earn trust

Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

12: Dive deep

Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.

13: Have backbone, disagree and commit

Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

14: Deliver results

Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.