4 Hallmarks Of A Bad Hiring Strategy

I’ve worked closely with dozens of founder-led companies that have fallen on hard times, often in the context of a private equity buyout.

It’s clear when a founder or founding team has failed to pursue a winning hiring strategy. You can see the “scar tissue” from prior bad decisions in the form of present-day organizational pain. 

If you are a startup founder in particular, pay attention—the patterns below are essentially a time machine, showing you what lies ahead if you pursue the wrong strategy.

(1) “The Club” 

> Root Cause: Founders hired a few close friends early on. These individuals remained in senior roles for too long (de-facto promotions), due to relationships/loyalties.

> Symptoms: Company struggles to attract high performers, who sniff out the lack of meritocracy (and lack of impressive talent at the top). Company lacks diversity, blocking access to huge swaths of the labor market. 

> How To Avoid: Look outside of your immediate network. Connect to great talent thru high performers who represent the diversity you want to create. Establish clear criteria for success in every role on an ongoing basis—treat promotions like a new hire. 

(2) “Swiss Army Knives”

> Root Cause: Founder hires generalist  “athletes” without a clear role in mind. These individuals get shuffled around in ill-fated “development opportunities.”

> Symptoms: Key functions lack real expertise and best practices. Organizational lines are blurry. Lower-level employees lack strong mentors in their functions.

> How To Avoid: Create a clear role definition at the outset of every hiring process—the key results and competencies needed in this role. 

(3) “The One-Legged Stool”

> Root Cause: Founder is deep in one functional area (e.g. Engineering) and can vet talent well. In other areas they are poorly calibrated (e.g. GTM). 

> Symptoms: One team is overpowered and “rules the roost.” E.g., Engineering dominates, product is great but we don’t know how to sell it. 

> How To Avoid: Lean on advisors in your network who know other functions. Have them help scope roles, create interview plans or even conduct interviews themselves.

(4) “Team Of Peters”

> Root Cause: Founder/leadership struggles to set expectations clearly with new hires during onboarding, and/or struggles to hold them accountable thereafter. 

> Symptoms: Peter Principle—individuals are promoted to their level of incompetence. Leaders are stuck in the weeds, doing these individuals’ jobs for them. 

> How To Avoid: Communicate specific, measurable expectations from day one, and check in on those expectations regularly. Be willing to have hard conversations--your best performers will thank you for it.

We have a set of tools to help avoid the mistakes above (via Talgo On Demand), and we’d be delighted to share it with you and your team. 

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