Hire for the Company, Not for a Manager

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Oct 29, 2018

Hiring by committee is a critical decision that you must make in the early days of the company, or must instate if it’s not present. No single individual, no matter how bright or powerful, should be the ultimate decision-maker, even if there is a final reviewer. A company is a community in which synergy is the key to success, not a kingdom nor a feudal system.

Repeat entrepreneurs often come to the realization that interviews by several people and subsequent hiring by committee are necessary, but, as a rule, this requirement is rarely emphasized as much as it should be. Laszlo Bock’s book about Google rightfully insists on this topic.

Google has one final reviewer, Larry Page. He is the end point of a process whose purpose is, as Bock writes, “to ensure that we stay true to the high-quality bar set by the founders. If you start a company or team, you know exactly what you are looking for in a new hire: someone just as motivated, clever, interesting, and passionate as you are about the new venture. And the first few people you hire will meet that standard. But they in turn won’t uniformly hire to the same standard as you, not because they are bad or incompetent people, but because they won’t have precisely the same understanding of what you are looking for.”

The minute you forget about high standards, you’re entering upon a slippery slope: “Each generation of hiring will therefore be a slightly poorer version of the hiring done by the prior generation. As you get bigger, there will also be more temptation to hire a friend or a customer’s child to help out or build the relationship. These are almost always a compromise of quality. The result is that you go from hiring stellar people as a small company to hiring average people as a big company.”

Hiring is a team sport that ensures the organization’s integrity, which means:

1. Hiring decisions are made by a committee.
2. Any employee may be involved in the process.

Hiring Decisions Are Made by a Committee

While the people we hire may be destined to report to a particular manager, that manager should not be the only one to decide or own the new hire. In one or two years, the employee may report to another manager in the same department or in another one. Employees join a company, not a person. This is especially important as the company grows: You don’t want to create silos where all the people hired by one manager have profiles that only meet the expectations of that particular hiring manager, no matter how remarkable she may be. If you let this happen, you are much more likely to create a collection of cliques within your company when it expands. Also, if the hiring manager leaves, her team will feel like orphans because their loyalty is to her and not to the company — and you don’t want the whole team to pack up and follow her!

You want employees to feel free to connect with other departments if they wish to expand on or diversify their skills. This is a way of allowing and encouraging them to grow, even within a young company. For example, it’s not unusual to see customer support employees interested in moving toward engineering, sales, or marketing — and it’s good practice to encourage them to do so, to save them from burnout and keep them in the company. Every single dedicated employee is a live company knowledge asset.

Employees are employees of the company and not of a person or a group. So from day one, a terrible practice called “talent hoarding” can begin: the horrendous practice of keeping an employee in her current role and preventing her from exploring other opportunities in the company. Beware of the managers who practice talent hoarding and keep an eye out for the tricks they use to do so. Some of them are: explaining to top employees that they are “close, but not quite yet ready” for the next position, underrating those employees, limiting high-visibility work assignments outside the team, restricting employee development/training opportunities, and punishing employees interested in other teams for being “disloyal,” or limiting their access to information revealing internal opportunities. According to Aberdeen, 50 percent of managers admitted they prevented their best employees from seeking out other roles or opportunities in a company. Meanwhile, 45 percent of employees who changed companies in 2014 and 2015 said they left because they didn’t have advancement or lateral move opportunities.

Any Employee May Be Involved in the Process

Any new recruitment affects the whole community. The company’s cohesiveness relies on the fact that each department services and is served by others. The sales division is the customer of your engineering team just as much as your engineering team is the customer of your customers. So, no matter what, each department and each team within the organization must work for the company. If you don’t keep this in mind at all times, you may pretty quickly become the unhappy overlord to a series of fighting factions.

You may fear that involving several employees in the search for new hires will be time consuming and distract them from urgent daily tasks. Yes, it is time consuming and, yes, it may take them away from important work, but it’s not some meddlesome distraction to be avoided. There are two sides to being an employee. The first one is working, but the second is being involved in building up the community where she works:

  • Employees are stakeholders in the company, either symbolically or literally. Each employee has an interest in belonging to a community where she feels comfortable and has a voice, whatever its hailing distance.
  • Employees convey a more truthful image of the company than internal or external recruiters do, because it’s easier for candidates to identify with them. As a result, candidates are less guarded, and your employees are able to pick out phonies much faster and identify the people they believe will be good coworkers much more effectively.

In her book about Airbnb, Leigh Gallagher recounts the intense interviewing process that Joe Zadeh, Airbnb’s third engineer and now VP of product, had to go through: “It involved two phone screens and in-person meetings with engineers numbers 1 and 2 before he could even meet with Blecharczyk [Co-Founder — then CTO and later chief strategy officer]. Then came a meeting with Gebbia and Chesky together, and after that he was brought back two additional times for a series of one-on-one meetings with every person in the office at the time. All told, he went through about 15 hours of interviewing, after which point he was given a timed three-hour take-home coding challenge.”

You may want to think that Zadeh was meant to become a big shot at Airbnb. That’s not a good reason. Every single employee is essential. Any one of them can have an impact on your “e-reputation” and on colleagues. Which supermarket would you choose: a place where cashiers look daggers at each other (and at you), or a place that breathes friendliness? Bad hires cost a fortune, and if you factor in the negative impact of a bad hire on the employees’ morale, you’re losing even more money. So time spent by your employee-recruiters is money well spent. The stakes are high!


Reprinted with permission from Everybody Wants to Love Their Job: Rebuilding Trust and Culture.

image from bigstock

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