The Right Stuff (or hiring the right first hires in a startup)

I had a discussion the other day with Jack Huang, CEO of the Give Truly, about hiring – not the best people, but the right people.  I don’t quite remember the exact three things he said the right hires were for an early startup, but etched in my memory were:

* Passion - given a million dollars, what would the new hire do? If it’s to continue doing whatever they applied to do, that’s a good thing!

* Integrity - ability and willingness to do the right thing.  Perhaps not commonly mentioned, but integral, integral, integral!

* Technical ability - a given perhaps, but worth mentioning

After giving it some though, I would add a fourth factor – pay.  Obviously one wants to optimize all four factors (as in the best would be as little pay as possible, highest technical ability, highest passion, highest integrity), but unfortunately real life doesn’t happen like that; you tweak one factor, the other three adjusts accordingly, in different ways for different people.  So what does one want to optimize?

So what factor to optimize?  I think the Breakfast Series at London Business School with Maureen Wheeler (Co-Founder of Lonely Planet, the world’s largest travel publications company) hosted by Rajesh Chandy gave a clue.  Maureen said (and I’m a liberally paraphrasing):

“10% of employees are really passionate about the business – always giving ideas, wanting to stretch and grow the company; 70-80% of employees want to do a good job but aren’t fully committed to the general future, and the rest are either uninterested or just scraping it by”

This may seem caustic, but it jives with what Jack Welch famously said is his book “Winning” or as some people call it the vitality curve - the top 20% of employees are most productive, the middle 70% work adequately, and the last 10% should be fired!

So my beginning argument is to optimize, at least in the beginning, individuals that are the 10-20% - the most passionate and productive ones.  That facet will help continue and galvanize a company culture, meanwhile contributing ideas that will challenge and grow the company at an early stage.

But my follow-on is that it’s not just passion that will do the trick (though that is key) – it’s motivated passion.  What is that?  Well, it’s the courage to want to challenge the founders and the company and to grow.  It’s not just being technically competent and willing to execute on a job; it’s the ability to take on the responsibility, process it, grow with it, challenge it, and then execute on it.  That’s a bit different from passion, which is joy for work.  Courageous passion is the willingness to own something AND loving it.  It’s something that comes from within - the ambition. Drive. Desire.

I’ll end with a further elucidation of motivation - once you read this there’s no way you can’t understand motivation.  Enjoy the Ranger Creed.