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Leadership

How I've Made Smart Hires As My Company Quadrupled In 10 Months

The Muse has grown to four times the size of its former self in under a year. CEO Kathryn Minshew explains what that's taught her.

[Photo: SFIO CRACHO via Shutterstock]

One of the most exciting parts of growing your company is bringing on new talent. An infusion of new people brings fresh perspectives, ideas, and energy—not to mention those much-needed extra hands.

But all that newness can be challenging, especially if you're doubling or tripling your team in a matter of months, asking new hires to be a part of a company culture where a large and growing chunk of your staff is still figuring out what that means.

Here at The Muse, we’ve quadrupled in size over the last 10 months, and we’ll likely double again by early next year. That experience has been eye opening. Here are some of the steps we've taken, and a few ways we've learned to keep our culture strong, even while scaling up like crazy.

1. Hire Great People Who Hire Great People

Sam Hodges, cofounder of Funding Circle, saw his U.S. team nearly quadruple in the space of a year. The very first point he makes in an article he wrote for Entrepreneur on company culture is the importance of hiring the right people—and more specifically, "hiring and training people who are going to hire the best people."

That couldn't be more true. As companies scale, their founders invariably become less involved in the hiring process. That's okay—just as long as the people you empower to recruit and select new employees on your behalf are crystal-clear on your vision and goals for team culture.

At The Muse, we put together a hiring guide that spells out our core values and a few specific questions to ask that will reveal whether or not candidates display them. Everyone who conducts interviews here uses this guide, and since implementing it, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of final-round candidates who get an offer. It helps keep everyone on the same page about the type of people we're looking for from the very beginning—even as the rate at which we look for them accelerates.

2. Share Institutional Knowledge—Which Includes Culture

When you’re onboarding new employees, it’s easy to get bogged down in passwords and paperwork (or, on the flip side, move so fast that you toss your new hire a laptop and say, "Go for it!"). But if you want employees to be invested from the day they start, you need to find ways to work culture into the orientation process.

My cofounder Alex and I lead a "history lesson" for all new employees. We walk them through the company’s origin story, share some of our traditions and jokes, and (something that’s now become a fan favorite) show them photos of a prank we pulled on one of our longtime employees. It’s not only a space for new hires to learn about how we’ve evolved, it’s also a great way to make them feel like they’ve been around for a while.

And while it takes time to do, we also make a point of making new hires meet with each department across the company so they can learn about what everyone does on a daily basis. This reinforces the collaborative feel of the office and helps everybody get comfortable working across teams from the very beginning. (Our most beloved tradition, Whiskey Friday, supports that goal as well—just in a slightly different fashion.)

As your team grows, it becomes even more important to open these lines of communication early. As it becomes ever less likely that an employee will be sitting near someone on an entirely different team, these early introductions create and build connections that might not otherwise occur.

3. Be Extra Welcoming

Most companies uphold the time-honored tradition of the welcome email. It isn't hard to send an all-staff note introducing somebody new to your team, even if you're bringing on more and more of them each time. But more often than not, those get buried in inboxes or just glanced over and swiftly forgotten.

So we try to make them more engaging by asking new hires to reply all with their answers to five questions. Since everyone does this on his or her first day, it’s an instant way to find common ground. And with questions like, "What’s the most embarrassing song in your iTunes library?" we reinforce the idea that we know work doesn’t have to be all serious, all the time.

We've also tried putting our own spin on how new hires are mentored. We assign each new full-time employee a "Muse Buddy"—picking someone not from their own team, which is generally more common, but somebody from another team. That buddy then takes them out their first week and answers any non-job-related questions they may have. This is a great way to continue to encourage one-on-one interactions as teams grow.

4. Go Ahead And Cherrypick

At The Muse, we're constantly looking inside tons of great companies that are hiring. One of the (many) perks of working with organizations with all different kinds of cultures is that we get to see how other leaders and founders motivate their teams.

There’s so much information out there, and while I encourage you to find what works for your company, you don’t have to start from square one. You can read Mark Zuckerberg’s number-one hiring rule, what Steve Jobs taught his top employees, or HubSpot’s experience of expanding its staff by over 800%.

Fast-growing startups tend to believe that their own idiosyncratic culture is a big source of their appeal among top talent, especially as they grow and their reputations swell. But that doesn't mean you can't borrow intelligently or learn from others who've been in the same hypergrowth you now find yourself in.

In a more recent tradition, we've started to invite leaders from other fast-growing companies for an informal breakfast with our executive team. Our employees have the chance to ask about the issues they’re facing and get perspective from an entirely different company. I’ve found that most founders and early employees who've led teams through growth are more than willing to share their expertise, and we’ve found this to be incredibly valuable.

When you’re building a company, it’s essential to keep your employees engaged and in line with your values. Even when a team is growing rapidly, it’s worth taking the time to hire right, onboard thoughtfully, and work tirelessly to keep your culture strong. Trust me—as someone (and yes, I may be biased) working with one of the best and most talented teams out there, I can tell you it's well worth it.

Kathryn Minshew is CEO and cofounder of The Muse. Follow her on Twitter at @kmin.

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