The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “How do you build a strong team?” is by Carol Leaman, president and CEO of Axonify.
A new hire recently told me something that will stay with me for a long time: “I’d always heard great things about the company and its people but wow, now that I’m here I haven’t come across a single person that isn’t a top performer. It’s awesome to be part of team like this”.
I was pretty proud to hear it. I spend a lot of time thinking about our people: how to hire them, how to enable them, and how to unleash their awesome power so we get the best out of them while they’re here.
In my experience, building a strong team doesn’t happen by accident. It takes careful planning and execution, understanding what modern employees need, and then maintaining a watchful eye on the day-to-day. I’ve learned a lot, sometimes the hard way, and the culmination of all those learnings was put into practice here at Axonify from day one.
Here is my recipe for success:
1. Hire high
When we first started Axonify you know who our first two hires were? A VP of marketing and a VP of development. Yep, VPs. Not less experienced people who were a lot cheaper. Our VPs were senior people who were willing to roll up their sleeves, buy into the vision, take a salary hit for stock options, think and act strategically and do the work of three people in that first year so they could benefit from the upside and be part of something exciting. Don’t underestimate the value of selling your vision and giving up a little bit of equity to attract more experience. You will accelerate your business in the early days more than you can possibly imagine.
2. Hire people you know
I’m not talking about close personal friends; I mean people you’ve worked with before, that you trust implicitly, who give it their all, and who model the culture and values you want to instill in the organization as it grows. Known commodities are invaluable in establishing and maintaining the right tone early as you add lesser-known people over time. Of the first fifteen people we hired at Axonify, I either knew them, or knew people who’d worked with them and gave them references that were over the top good. Not just good – over-the-top good.
3. Lead, don’t micromanage
I’ll bet if you were to take a survey of any group of people about whether or not they think they’re smart, want to contribute, want to be recognized for it, want to do challenging things, want to feel like they’re progressing in their careers and want to feel good about where they work…well, I think you know what the answer is.
Your teammates are human beings just like you. If you treat them with respect, give them the goalposts, enable and support them to execute, expect them to act like the smart people they are, and don’t blame them for honest mistakes, they will go to the wall for you without being asked. Try it. Employees are incredibly intelligent in executing on their roles when you don’t treat them like children or make them afraid. Anything less than that and you may be able to hire a strong team, but you won’t keep them.
4. Fix problems fast
It’s true that once in a while a weak performer slips through the filter, or you are so desperate to fill a hole that you let your standards slide. It happens to the best of us. The key is to avoid sticking your head in the sand, convincing yourself that it will get better with time. It rarely does. Deal with it. The longer you let it go, the bigger the distraction for all of those other excellent people who wonder why you aren’t dealing with it. It’s a downer for everyone and sends a message that maybe the bar is lower than they thought. Do that enough, and you end up on a slippery slope of everyone working to the lowest common denominator. Your best people will leave.
5. Top performers draw top performers
And on that note, if there’s one thing that drives an awesome employee crazy, it’s being surrounded by people who aren’t so awesome. The corollary is also true; if there’s one thing that excites and motivates an awesome employee, it’s being surrounded by great people that they can learn from, trust, rely on and get the same sense of energy and urgency from.
Our team has grown 50% since the beginning of this year. That’s a lot of change in a short amount of time with the potential to make mistakes. What’s been interesting though, is that every time we’ve posted a new position, we have amazing people to choose from. Why? Great people attract more great people. And our existing great people get to interview the newcomers so they have a direct hand in keeping our standards high. As we like to say here, we’ve developed a natural and healthy company immune system that keeps the viruses out.
Attracting top talent is tough. Posting any job these days often results in a wide variety of candidates with a wide variety of experiences and personalities. Go for the absolute best people you can get, every time, and don’t settle. Let them do their best work and let them be the standard bearers for everyone new. You’ll end up with the strongest team getting the best results. Pretty quickly you won’t have to go looking for them. They’ll come looking for you.