In the four years I've been leading the emergence of iQualify I've discovered more about hiring people and growing teams than in the 16 previous years of leadership, consulting and software development roles. Here's the thing: I think most people get hiring wrong, and that's evidenced by the clashes that appear in larger work places every day.
iQualify's core platform team has grown from one person, when I initially spent nights and weekends to bootstrap the intrapreneurial start-up to establish a small founding team, to over 20 today. We have a highly talented and passionate team of customer success and support people, product managers, analysts, engineers, designers, and leaders. Over that time just one has left. If you tried to work out why they are staying when turnover is so high in our industry (particularly in IT, and particularly in education), you'd probably come back with data around the work content, technology, pace of work and flexibility. But that's not really the answer. The team care deeply about our product and the people who use it. Enough to make a case, research options, furiously debate directions and burn the night away when they feel it's necessary to prove a concept. Without needing permission. They also care about each other. And it's a combination of these factors that keeps them with us. Is our hiring really any different to yours to achieve this?
I think when most of us are hiring we have similar outcomes in mind: we want to grow the team (or replace vacant seats), we want the new hire to fit in well with the rest of the team, we want our new hire to benefit us in some way (add a new skill, perspective or energy, and revenue).
Where things start to go wrong in the hiring process starts with shortlisting and ends with onboarding. Let's talk about how we hire, and you can decide for yourself where the differences might be in your organisation.
Step One: Be Available
We try to avoid having on and off hiring times. We always try to be open to looking at the next person who wants to join us, even if we aren't planning to grow just yet. Alongside this, we have diverse sources for getting people into the process. People we've met or worked with before, people that our organisational HR team finds, people that recruitment agencies find, and people who find us directly because they believe in our product. We've had candidates from all of these sources, but particularly good luck with those found by recruiters for us.
Step Two: The Three Meetings
Interviewing doesn't really start with interviewing the potential team members, it involves them interviewing us. Remote working is a key capability in our team, and so we start with a short pitch session where the person gives us half an hour over a video call. We use it to explain the outcome we deliver, our products, how we work and share the high pace and focus needed, and the value we place on protecting our team's personal time. We talk about the dogs who share our office, the genuine flexibility for people to work in a way that helps them be productive, the openness of communication required to make partly remote teams work, and how much we care about the outcomes our product provides to people. Throughout we ask for questions and we make it clear that the purpose of the first session is really to let the potential team member know enough to decide whether they still want to work with us. We also drop plenty of hints about what is coming up in the last meeting, to give time for preparation.
If they're still keen we get a few key people to take the potential new team member out for coffee. This is the first interview, but a fairly casual one. We're making sure that the most important box is ticked: can we have a conversation together. We find out a little more about each other, and there are enough technical questions (where technical applies to the kind of job they're interested in) so that we can create an appropriate test for the second interview. That's it.
The last one is the most challenging, but as we tell people coming into it, it's often more about the questions that are asked than the tasks that are completed. There's typically a reasonably challenging task set appropriate to the person, their experience, and the part of the team they want to work in. This task takes place in a work environment, with a work-like task (we try not to ask anyone to work on something useful to us for free here). Again, we're looking as much for the questions that are asked as the work produced and the discussion around the process.
Step Three: Deciding With Hearts and Minds
Let's face it, few businesses are in a position to take every qualified and interested person on and we're no different. What we have found is that people who move through all the steps of our process tend to be kind, creative and inquisitive. If someone doesn't quite make the grade on technical skills, we try to bring them in when we can (this isn't always possible, depending on number of experienced people actively coaching new team members), but we don't ever do the opposite: hire someone with impressive skills and experience who might be damaging. Decide with hearts first, minds second.
Step Four: Don't Stop There
As well as hiring for the wrong things, I feel that so many businesses completely fail to set the scene for the new person on day one. Who are they going to be working with? Have introductions been made? Do they know what behaviours are in the team? Where's the coffee machine?
When we first started growing beyond our initial founding team, we put in place a shared team agreement that outlines some of the key behaviours needed in a team who are growing a product together. It outlines the necessary behaviours around of generalising specialists, the need to have people make their opinion known and engage in discussion (and conversely the need to accept when decisions have been made), the value of customer experience (both for those we already have, and those we don't have yet), the need for teams to keep each other on track, everyone's shared responsibility for the (dog) friendly office environment and engaging with the remote team environment. More recently this has turned into a more complete onboarding course using our platform which covers our lean practices, key technical practices, and other key info.
If You're Hiring Right
Let's get some core beliefs about people on the table: people are good and intend good things at work; everyone is capable of doing a great days work providing the work is great; people work best in different ways depending on what work they're doing, the time of year and who they're working with; most people want to enjoy work and feel good about their work.
The people who join you will always be good for your team, but what they do to be good for your team will change over time. You should be open to creating opportunities for them, for facilitating the growth of new skills to use in your team, and for the conditions of the job (including number of days/hours worked, when and where they are worked) to change over time as the demands of life change.
As a result of this, we are able to run a number of self-managing product development and customer success teams, and the leadership team focusses on just that: leading our people and leading our product.
There is no "and in return" here. You're not creating an environment where your team owe favours, you're setting up the mechanics required to succeed. If you can do this, then whatever your product becomes in the future, whoever your customers are, the people you have around you will be ready to work with you to make it happen. If you're already there, I think you might be hiring right.