29 January 2013 // 2013-29

Thoughts on Hiring from Someone Who Works Alone


You can hire a person for the product she makes. Your focus is on the product created, the task that’s done, or the deliverable that’s presented.

You can hire someone for the role she fills. Your focus is on the experience that person has, how well she lives up to your perception of that role, and how well your company image benefits from having her.

You can hire someone for the experience of having her as a team member. This employee’s skills, experience, and role are all important, but so are her insights, opinions, and original contributions. This person’s presence and actions shape a portion of the company and you hire to gain this value.

I Have No Employees

By some definitions, I work alone. With designations like “sole proprietor” or “single member llc,” my business is based on me. It’s my work, my decisions, and my product. But I think a lot about meaningful work and company culture. In the past I’ve worked for managers, and I’ve been a manager. I’ve hired, and I’ve been hired. I know I’ll be in one (or both) of those positions again someday.

Right now I’m the one-and-only, but I think a lot about how my company would change if I began to build it out with others. Thinking about the work someone might do, the role someone might fill, and how having another person might benefit my business helps me to consider when - and if - I’d expand. Here are some of those thoughts.

Hiring for the Product

If I had to guess, I’d say most small or young companies hire their initial employees because they need something done but they don’t have the knowledge, skills, or resources to do it with whomever they have on-hand. This is an acceptable reason for hiring. If you’re in this position, you need an end product or service, but you can’t do it yourself, or you can’t do it well, or you can’t do it fast enough. You need someone else (or something else) to step in.

When you’re hiring for the product or the deliverable, results matter. You’re looking for someone with a specific skill or set of skills who can accomplish the task(s) at hand.

If you’re hiring for the end product, you may place a heavy emphasis on skills and proficiencies during the interview and job selection stage. You want someone who can do the work and who can do it well. Harder, better, faster, stronger! Think of companies who require proficiency tests, skill certifications, and the ability to speak three languages fluently while typing at 95 wpm.

For this kind of work, it doesn’t really matter who gets the work done as long as it gets done well. If a team of eight-handed monkeys could interpret the instructions and get the job done, brilliant. Speaking of eight-handed monkeys…

Is this work that can be outsourced or picked up by a partner organization? One thing that I often see with small companies or young companies is that they truly have a need but the need isn’t steady. When you’re young and growing, it’s a bumpy road and few things can be taken for granted. Employees might be overwhelmed one month and twiddling their thumbs the next. Hiring an employee is a serious commitment. It’s hard on company resources and employee morale when someone sits around with nothing to work on.

You may be able to scale up gracefully through several solutions. If you need help now, but you’re not sure if the demand will continue, outsourcing an aspect of the work might be an option. Can’t outsource it? Temporary staffing agencies specialize in placing skilled and trained workers into situations that are…temporary. Some even let you hire the workers directly if the need turns out to be long-term. Try partnering with another individual or organization if you have a need to fill but don’t know enough to manage the role or oversee the work. You can also consider an intern or a contract employee if you want to work directly with someone but are still getting used to the word “employee.”

When you’re hiring for the product or the result, that’s what you value most. However you end up getting the work done, you’ll judge the person or persons based on things like their efficiency, accuracy, productivity, and skill.

Hiring for the Image

This may sound absurd to some people, but there are organizations that hire employees primarily because they believe they need to create a certain image for their business or fill a specific role. I’ve seen this with both large companies and small startups.

A mid-level manager might get a memo that he needs to hire a new analyst. What for? He doesn’t know, but someone in upper management has set aside the funding for it. This person will report to him, will work on yet-to-be-determined projects, and is being enlisted because someone in the company perceived a hole in the team.

An agency may decided that in order to best serve their clients and truly be in business, they need a marketer, a designer, a developer, and an account manager. They might just be starting out and not have any client work that requires a developer, but it seems like a good idea to have their bases covered. They might have an employee who could cover duties of a marketer and an account manager while the company is still scaling up, but the agency believes clients expect a dedicated marketer and a dedicated account manager. They take work being covered by one person and split it between two in order to create separate roles.

A startup founder might feel pressured to find a co-founder. After all, he’s been told over and over that most successful startups have at least two people. A startup of two might feel pressured to become three. You’ve got two technical co-founders? It’s time to add biz dev...

I’ve been contacted by managers seeking advice on what a ux design role should cover and what the job description should look like. They’ve been told they need to add this position to their team even though they’re not sure how to manage the position or what the employee will do. I’ve worked for a young company that believed they needed to hire like mad in order to appear successful, like a young company on the rise. They had an entire roster of positions they wanted to fill out in a few short months, but no client projects to support the hires. It turns out you can achieve awards for company growth, even when that growth is in employees and not revenues.

If you are hiring for image, you believe that you have a company with certain roles that need to be filled. You may not be entirely certain what value these positions will bring to your company or what their roles will actually cover. However, you may have an innate sense that this is how you’re supposed to expand your company. You may feel that you need your company to look big (or at least bigger than a company of one) in order to seem credible. You may feel that you need to fill certain roles to be competitive. You may believe your duties and responsibilities will easier if someone else is involved.

If your primary concern is completing an image or filling a role, you may place heavy emphasis on past experience and accomplishments during the interview and job selection process. You might find yourself looking for a candidate with a background that fits your perception of the role perfectly. Has she held similar roles at other companies in the past? Does she have a list of successes and accomplishments related to this role? Will she make you look good if you hire her?

Once you hire this employee, you might not know how to measure the value she brings to your company. It’s hard to quantify how closely someone fits an image. You may fall back on vague notions of value, like publicity, compliments from clients and partners, good press, and general company success.

Should you hire on image or role alone? No. Let need dictate how your company expands. How well someone fills a position and the kind of past experience she brings to a company are important, but they’re not the only considerations when making a hire. If your hiring decisions are really about perception and the need to employ warm bodies, there are ways around this. You can hire temporary workers or even actors! (I’m not kidding - some companies have hired stand-ins to fill empty desks so that they don’t appear understaffed or like a company in peril when clients come by for meetings. People recognize that a wasteland of empty cubicles doesn’t do a lot to boost confidence in the stability of your company and the value of the services you offer.)

Hiring for the Person

Hiring for the person is a little different. The role she fills is important, the experience she brings is a consideration, the skills she has are crucial, the work she produces is significant. But when you hire for the person, you realize that this new employee can achieve something more at the company than just an end result.

Having this person as an employee fundamentally changes the nature and culture of your company. Even if she’s there to get the job done, you look to her to bring a unique perspective, a different insight from your own, and a complementary skill set.

When you hire for the person, you realize that his presence, his work, and his opinion will shape the company (for good or bad). During your interview process, you may focus on how the person solves problems, how she thinks, how she handles situations, and what kind of vibe she brings to your organization.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out. Sometimes the vibe she brings isn’t the right one or the way she handles situations doesn’t benefit the company in the way you’d like. That’s okay. It’s not unique for companies and employees to part ways because of “differences in opinion” or a “misfit in company culture.”

You hire for the person when your decision is about more than product or reputation. Maybe it’s about growth or change. You’re ready to add a new dimension to your company. You value this employee for being a person and an expert. You’re looking for original contributions from her. You measure her worth not just by her skills or by the number of widgets she can turn out. You measure her based on her decisions, independent thinking, new ideas, and the changes she brings to your company or product.

When you hire for the person, you’re building out a team. You’re not filling a card or acquiring a humanized robot. When I hire my first employee, I want that person to be my first teammate. How about you?

Author: Erin Jo Richey
URL: http://erinjorichey.com/thumos/articles/thoughts-on-hiring

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