In case you haven’t noticed, we’re amidst a tidal wave of work independence. So many people are defecting and throwing out the rulebook.
One of the big strengths of this new form of independence is in thinking differently about how to package and deliver services, and new approaches to building whole businesses. The creativity is inspiring and encouraging. I love being a witness.
So it seems odd to me that many small services businesses consider the problem of growth with a traditional mindset:
I HAVE TO GROW > I HAVE TO ADD PEOPLE UNDER ME WHO DO WHAT I DO > I HAVE TO TRAIN THEM TO DO IT EXACTLY HOW I DO IT
Which, by the way is perfectly fine. And I happen to think it’s doable, even though the fear of turning into a training business is justified.
Growth is a change management exercise.
When you undergo change of any kind, it’s important to pause and rediscover what your purpose is, what your goals and plans are. It’s an opportunity for branding and marketing. It’s important to approach growth with these questions and concerns.
What do you want to spend your time doing?
Do you want to develop then supervise business that you have other people deliver? Do you want to remain integral to the delivery of your services working intimately with clients one-on-one? Do you want to consolidate your services as one part of something much larger and personally learn new compatible skills?
I call these “your business’s soulful questions” and without answering them and others, it’s impossible to really grow successfully.
But – and this is most important – if you start thinking about this problem of expansion in a different way possibilities start to open up.
So you want to grow. Why not start a craze?:
The Wagon Wheel: Hire a variety of assistants, a team of helpers who get you and free you up to work on delivery.
The Love Connection: Find someone whose business is very similar who you love and become a partnership.
The Understudy: Find someone whose business is just starting and offer her to your customers at a lower rate while offering her your brand to build off of.
The Sherpa: Find someone who handles business development, who JUST attracts clients and builds the brand (so you do all the delivery).
The Napoleon: Buy another larger successful company that you love (not impossible).
The All-Day Buffet: Expand your services as part of something else. Then hire someone who specializes in that.
The Contrarian:Find someone with a radically different voice and become this dual headed beast covering a larger market share.
The Multilingual: Find another way that may not exist yet. For example, can your thing work in other languages? Find a French you.
The point is figure out what you really want and then brainstorm different ways to get there. Think about growth as you would the rest of your business.
The death of strategic planning has been greatly exaggerated. But it’s true that we’re at a moment in time where top-down planning is less and less effective. Rather than set a plan and rigid parts to have others deliver on it, as a leader it’s more efficient to set strategic direction and then hand over incremental decisions to smart specialists. In Linchpin, Seth Godin uses the example of the fast and complex Japanese transit system which operates on schedule and on budget, not by top-down directive, but by a large pool of empowered employees making the best decisions in the moment. “Letting people in the organization use their judgement turns out to be faster and cheaper–but only if you hire the right people and reward them for having the right attitude.“
Construct an organization built for good decision-making and rapid iteration.
1. Set the table. As with the tipping point, there’s always a lot of behind-the-scenes greasing before the big visible result. Make sure you’re developing a culture that features baked in autonomy and rewards independent thinking and teamwork.
2. Hire leaders (or linchpins). Lots has been said elsewhere about how best to hire proactive employees but here are two favorite tips. 1) Learn “critical incident interviewing” and, like the cleaning products company, Method, 2) Hold tryouts.
3. Celebrate improvisation. In order to learn how to be spontaneous, it’s important to create a hierarchy that leaves room for failure. Think of good decision-making as a skill to be fostered in your organization just as you might keep employees up to speed with new technology or processes. It might even be a good idea to incentivize failure to encourage innovation.
4. “Brand” your mission. Every team should be be well versed in its purpose. A brand is purpose distilled to its essence. Is your mission as simple to understand as a good brand? If not, work on it. Do this relentlessly so that your employees are guided at all times by the team’s mission.
5. Allow freedom of movement. Employees never cite money as the #1 factor in determining work happiness. #1 usually has something to do with autonomy and freedom. If you encourage cross-functionality, knowledge sharing, openness on projects, you create an atmosphere of respect and openness.
6. Encourage side projects. Successful main projects almost always started out as side-projects. Think about it. I know of one company that held an internal product competition. Think about ways you can get employees solving problems that may not be directly related to their roles.
“Many people won’t take a step until they think that they know what the right thing is. There is an expression, ‘Do the right thing.’ But how do we know what the right thing is? We can’t know for sure. Maybe we should just say, ‘Do the next thing.’ And if we do that –whatever it is–to the best of our ability, chances are it will turn out to be the right thing as well.”
Bernie Glassman, Founder of Greyston Bakery and author of Instructions to the Cook
The thing about being a business owner is that you never get anywhere. You start out with the idea that, “If I just get a business going and become independent, then I’ll be satisfied.” Then when you establish your business and are fully independent you get the idea that, “If I just get someone else to answer my emails and do proposals, finally I’ll be able to get some more sleep and relax!” After you hire someone and continue to build your business you have the idea that, “As soon as I make $1M I can step back and have someone else run part of my business.”
The truth is, it never ends. The fatal flaw of humanity is that we’re never satisfied and are condemned to suffer through the present.
It’s actually exciting if you’re not trying to get anywhere special, if you’re enjoying the ride. Or, if you’re looking at doing the next thing to the best of your ability.
As a business owner whenever you reach a plateau, it’s like starting over. Constantly hitting refresh on your knowledge. When you start you have to figure out how to get people to buy what you’re selling. Then you have go to the trouble of making a product or expanding your service line. To add employees, you have to learn how to interview and do payroll and keep them happy. And on and on.
The only answer is to get going and live in the moment.
A big problem that I see with business owners is complacency coupled with unhappiness. “I won my freedom so I deserve to coast.” No–the world needs you now more than ever! True joy is worth the hard work. (You know this.)
Why aren’t you letting your business and yourself loose on the world? Because you’re attached to some outcome–the right thing. So you distract yourself so don’t have to do much at all. You revamp your website (again) or read a book about business or hatch a social media plan. Anything to dull the not-doing. Excuses are endless and at the ready.
Do you recognize any of these?:
I could do it. But I don’t have the time, money, brains, friends, knowledge, flat abs, etc.
I’m just not good enough. There’s no way people will want what I have to offer.
I’ve got a ton of freaking great ideas, I’m just not sure what to do next. I just need to figure out a few things.
What’s the point? My bounce rate sucks.
I’m worried I’ll spend all this time on my thing and no one will buy it.
Logo the Turtle
I could do this but first I need a logo. And a great website. And a business partner. Then.
The Resume Refresher
I need more experience. Once I work a few more years, I’ll freshen up my resume and then I can do it.
I just need more followers. Then I’ll have some momentum. Hold on, I have to tweet.
There are others. And they’re all pretty common. So common in fact, I would bet that EVERY business owner (or anyone who has ever made anything) has intimately encountered one or many of these excuses.
Combating them is about getting out of your own way and getting on to the next thing.
I read a lot. I like good writing and I like to bookmark. Every day I see a new article on the latest hiring trend. But there are certain pieces of writing on the process and philosophy of hiring for your company that stand out in a big way. They’re heavy with the whiff of experience. They’re rational and useful. I’m constantly referring them to clients and friends.
This list is heavy on the tech end of the industry spectrum. That isn’t intentional. If your business is not tech related, it doesn’t really matter. You’ll find fantastic hard-won advice and logical thinking on hiring creative people in any fast moving industry.
Here are excerpts from and links to my five favorite hiring articles on the web:
This four-parter has probably been read by everyone in the Y Combinator orbit, or every tech start-up that’s hired anyone since 2009 for that matter. That’s because it’s to-the-point, practical and preventative in ways that many hiring articles are not. This piece is definitely written through a highly specific lens, but it’s in-focus and the high level tips–utilize your network, give homework, set the bar high but not too high–are spot on.
Building a network and using it to find the best people is a long term play. CEOs who knew lots of people at Yahoo got a windfall when Yahoo started faltering, for example. These events are rare and hard to predict.
You also can’t predict when you’ll get a phone call from a friend of a friend who isn’t happy at his current gig.
The best you can do is try to encourage these random events. Meet lots of people, spread the word about what you’re doing, and be so awesome and excited that people remember you and your enterprise.
This is a great strategy overall, and will result in more frequent coincidences that result in positive results.
There are two good reasons that I’m a fan of Michael Lopp aka Rands. He writes about business stuff that other people ignore and he’s a stellar writer. Reading his musings on management, software, and general geekery is doubly enriching. This article has a corporate-y spin, centered around the “req” process, but does well to highlight one essential element of hiring right: a clear, persistent, vocalized desire.
If you’re hiring well, you’re hiring people not just for this job, but for your career. These are the people who, for better or worse, will explain to others what it is like to work with you. They’ll explain your quirks, your weaknesses, and your strengths. When they eventually leave the group, they’re taking your reputation with them. You may never talk to them again, but they’ll continue to talk and my question is: what stories are they going to tell?
This piece was written by Jocelyn Glei who edits my own posts for 99%. I’m a huge admirer of Jocelyn’s writing (and editing) and this is the piece that finally pushed me to inquire if I could write for her. Hiring any employee means making a reasonable guess of what a person will do at some point in the future. Therefore your tactics should center around teasing out the do. That means personal qualities and a well-communicated track record of events.
We tend to judge people based on their experience. This is, of course, the whole basis of the resumé. Yet, while on-the-job experience is valuable, we must dig deeper. A better indicator of productive creativity is one’s willingness to act, to take the initiative to put an idea in motion.
37 Signals honcho Jason Fried is known for his often contradictory and against-the-grain view of business building and process. I love his advice about doing every job yourself before hiring, and if you find that you really need someone, hire away (though I don’t know how practical it is for every situation.) Jason’s advice boils down to this: you don’t have to do what everyone else does. Find your way.
I’ve run into a lot of companies that invent positions for great people just so they don’t get away. But hiring people when you don’t have real work for them is insulting to them and hurtful to you. Great people want to work on things that matter. Inevitably, a great person working on imaginary work will turn into an unsatisfied person. Then he’ll leave.
Cult Creation is about building a team that acts like a cult: “a group of super high quality people who trust each other and have similar ways of thinking, learning, reacting, problem-solving and working together. ” Sign me up! Newcomb argues that the way to build a cult is through the hiring process. He clearly came to this conclusion by living it, and this comprehensive and informative review of his process is riveting, which is probably why it’s been read 39,000 times.
Never, ever make it easy to join your team. In fact, make it very hard to join your team. More talented people will respect this and be excited that it’s hard to join your company. It is very important to A-level people that they work with other A-level people. Publicly letting the world know that you have a very difficult hiring process will generally attract more A-level people and will scare off B-level people and below – making your job that much easier.
The reading you do before hiring is preparation. Hearing about other people’s stories may prevent you from making mistakes… or may not. In the end, finding a hiring process that works for your organization is something that comes with the framework of a well-built process and lots and lots of practice.