How to hire effective leaders in three tried-and-tested steps.
Miklos Blasko is a Talent Advisor to Venture Capital Funds and Founders across Europe. He is currently co-leading TBS's early-stage function and works with Founders across Europe to tackle talent challenges early. He's passionate about entrepreneurship, equal opportunity and discovering hidden pockets of talent. Here are his practical tips for hiring effective leaders into a company.
A few months ago, I got an awkward request.
A top European VC asked me to give a presentation to their leadership team on the topic of how investors can help startup founders with executive hiring.
The people awaiting my talk were long-time board advisors and successful investors. They have been involved in as much hiring of leaders as me — if not more. I went in with the fear that I would be giving some rudimentary points to people who are, by all accounts, expert talent pickers.
I threw that notion out the window within five minutes. Here’s why.
When I put up my first slide, almost everyone in the room took a photo. What I thought might have been a slightly-too-simple model for these experts, was already proving useful.
This reaction, and of course some useful pushiness from our Head of Brand, prompted me to write this article. I hope it’s useful for you, too.
A practical framework for making good hiring decisions.
This piece is not a lot of self-justification and trying to prove why getting hiring right is important. C-level leaders, investors, and founders who haven’t realised that their role involves hiring the best possible talent probably have other things to worry about.
This article is for those of you who are exposed to the hiring dilemma daily and want a practical and effective framework for making good hiring decisions.
This system works. So, I encourage you to copy paste, reuse, and recycle it. Hopefully it will make your life as an investor, founder, or headhunter easier.
When you’re preparing to search for a new leader to join your company, these are the three most important things to keep in mind.
Let’s break these down.
1. Role definition
Hiring an executive into your company will take around 90 days. Unless you have an airtight process with candidates already lined up, this will be the case nine out of ten times.
Anyone going in with different expectations usually ends up taking longer than 90 days, because they are underestimating the complexity of the process from day one. Note: this is accurate for most of Europe.
Before you start the hiring process, write these things down:
- 6–12-month expectations with specific goals and KPIs for the role
- 5-6 bullet points that encompass at least 80% of the value this person will bring
- problems you do not expect to solve with hiring for this role
Your criteria should be:
Common mistakes to avoid:
- Projecting all the company’s weaknesses/fears onto a single hire (hello COO?)
- The job description is a horoscope (reading it, anyone can think it fits them)
- Missing reality check – the role is not attractive to the target audience (because of salary, range, or remit)
- Restrictive – a tiny talent pool will give you terrible odds to hire from the start
2. Role alignment
Decide who needs to be involved in decision making and who will be limited to giving an opinion. Make this explicit and reasonable. It will help you to avoid having too many cooks in the kitchen.
VCs, please don’t fool yourselves by saying that you’ll let the team handle the process if you’re going to veto a candidate at the 11th hour. If you’re a decision maker, you need to be involved in every critical step.
Best practices if you fall into the bucket of “decision maker”:
- Be involved from day one and strive for alignment
- Calibrate with real examples that represent your expectations (calibration profiles)
- Share openly – be clear and transparent with information
- Keep it lean – those involved need to be able to make hiring decisions
- Be present – for your search partner, head of TA, or founder
- Be real – call out the bullsh*t openly
Key decision makers should be:
- Aligned on criteria and goals
- Know what great looks like
I hope that any product manager reading this will get where we’re going by now, but the last step is continuous iteration. You need to understand and accept what the market is telling you. Founders, you are probably quite optimistic. Listen and accept what you’re seeing. Investors/Board members, here is where your practical, critical eye can really help your founders move the needle. Help them see reality.
- Continuous alignment – dedicate time to share and receive feedback and pivot if needed
- Participate in update calls. Communicate directly with your team (including your search partner if you have one)
- Focus on the core problem. Don’t stick to your first hypothesis because it’s rarely accurate
- Reflect on what the market is telling you
- Not learning – sticking to a first hypothesis and not accepting new information
- Diminishing returns – chasing the same profile for too long
- Not realigning with the team when criteria changes
- Lack of self-reflection – getting upset when top people aren’t interested instead of asking why?
It’s a learning process. Here are some final top tips to make sure that you succeed:
- The market is usually hot
- Adjust demand to meet supply
- Be flexible
- Communicate often and efficiently
- Avoid information silos
The content was created and presented by myself and my partner in crime on this occasion – our CEO Learco Finck. If you want to talk more about this topic, reach out to me on LinkedIn or at email@example.com.