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Do I hire the worker I need today, or the leader I need tomorrow?

Actually, you have to hire someone who can be both, says our advice columnist.

Do I hire the worker I need today, or the leader I need tomorrow?
[Photos: Eduardo Dutra/Unsplash; Eunice Lituañas/Unsplash]

Editor’s Note: Each week Maynard Webb, former CEO of LiveOps and the former COO of eBay, will offer candid, practical, and sometimes surprising advice to entrepreneurs and founders. To submit a question, write to Webb at dearfounder@fastcompany.com.

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Q. Do I hire the person who can do what I need done today? Or do I hire the person who will be able to do what I need two years out?

—Founder and CEO of early stage company

 Dear Founder,

It’s not either/or. You need to find someone who can do both—the job you have today and the job you’ll need done tomorrow.

That’s not to say this is easy. If they have already done the job, that means they have been in much bigger roles or at much bigger organizations. Now you are asking them to take a step back in time and do it again—and that means repeating all the heavy lifting that’s required in these early days. The person must be willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty, and not everyone wants to do that again. Some of my worst mistakes have been hiring someone who had run a large organization and who was overqualified for the job I was offering, but who said they were willing to do the kind of work that was demanded at this stage. It turned out they weren’t—and that ultimately spelled disaster.

On the other hand, some of my best hires were giving people a chance who had never done the job before but when offered the opportunity, delivered beyond expectations. I’ve been amazed by seeing people who were willing to do their current job and who also showed me they could do the job that was required for where we were going as a company.

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Now, this brings me to another point: You can’t just promote everyone. The math on that doesn’t work. If you have 10 people today and 100 people tomorrow and 1,000 people two years from now, you will need to bring on additional talent at all levels. And even if you have great internal candidates and you are promoting from within, you will still need to hire people who come in above some people already there. How do you end up keeping people motivated when you hire above them?

You must remind people of the situation. You also must work to ensure that your culture is not insular. As a company grows, it needs new people with new skills, and these people must be welcomed to the company.

The best way for everyone to look at this is as a tapestry—bringing people inside and outside the organization together to create something stronger.

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