over 2 years ago by Jack Drury

Powerful: Lessons for Recruiters & Hiring Managers


What are you currently binging on Netflix? Chances are, with 130m subscribers (and therefore another 500m piggybackers) you're binging something. Netflix is the archetype of a Silicon Valley software start-up success, completely disrupting the consumption, and therefore production, of TV.

As Netflix scaled, Patty McCord (as Chief Talent Officer) developed a 'culture deck' that was shown to all new employees. Since being posted online, it has been read more than 15 million times. It is a blunt, opinionated and therefore somewhat controversial work that turns many 'HR norms' on their heads.

In her new book, Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility, Patty fleshes out how the 100-slide set of ideals translated into day-to-day practice. As Andreesen Horowitz's byline puts it, software is eating the world. When the nature of software allows a business to scale globally in months, how should businesses manage their talent? How should businesses hire when the demand for agility, responsiveness and pace renders the traditional approach of job descriptions obsolete?

This book is worth reading, but in digestible chunks, here are my Powerful: Lessons for Recruiters and Hiring Managers.

Hire Outstanding: Hire Agile...

As the Deck puts it, an outstanding employee in a functional role will achieve twice as much as an average employee; in a creative role, that factor could be ten times. In a start-up, where best practice is yet to be developed and disseminated, and it's vital to be agile enough to respond to both challenge and opportunity, everybody is a creative. John Donne wasn't thinking of software businesses when he wrote that 'no man is an island', but the adage applies. Outstanding people don't just execute a job description, they contribute to a business through collaboration, often as informally as discussing problems over coffee. When you also know that your business will change on a quarterly basis (or more frequently), hire people who have the skills and agility to flex efficiently. It's worth paying the premium for people who add broad, deep, consistent value.

...Understand That Outstanding Is Subjective...

But 'outstanding' isn't an objective, absolute quality. People are made outstanding by their current context. Most of the function of the search, screening and interview process should be to work out what is, and what isn't, transferable. This may mean looking at curveball candidates, who have the wrong background as evaluated by job titles, but right background as evaluated by skills. Equally, resist the temptation to hire successful people on the assumption that success is easily transferable - it isn't.

...But Don't Compromise.

Building an outstanding team is time-consuming, arduous and painful - but worth it. When you have a pressing need - an account that needs attention, or a competitor raising their game - it can be tempting to lower standards and make a snap hire. Poor candidates are, to be blunt, like rot. They hamper, frustrate and slow other outstanding people. Never compromise.

Don't Promise A Career At Your Business; Promise An Increase In Market Value.

Patty writes that when Netflix employees were on-boarded, they were advised that Netflix weren't career mentors; opportunities for progression would arise as dictated by business need, not by the ambitions of staff. This seems sensible. Mis-set expectations on progression is one of the more frequent reasons I hear from people looking to move on. Instead of promising a career track, promise that you will make your business a great business to be from, a real value-add to a CV.

Care For Your Talent Pipeline.

How well you manage your talent pipeline determines how quickly and how reliably you can grow when you need to, and how quickly and reliably you can replace key people should they leave. When you're hiring, you'll talk to many more people than you hire. Look after them. Too many businesses - and certainly too many recruiters - have what I term a 'scorched earth' approach to talent management, burning everything left behind. Poor feedback communication, lethargic decision-making, hot-then-cold behaviour may be efficient now, but cripples your future. It's a small world, people gossip, employer brands are tarnished fast.

People Will Join For Your Business, Not Your Tat.

No-one buys a coffee for the latte art.

Good people, and especially good start-up people, are attracted to the work to be done, the problems to be fixed, and the market to be taken over. Make candidates feel like potential stakeholders in the business. To do that, discuss in interview global challenges and ambitions. Talk openly about concerns that would be traditionally considered leagues above their pay grade. Give them an insight into what they're going to be part of. This approach is only going to get more vital as millennials make their way into the market; it's been shown many times they care about global business challenges. More than ever, people tie their professional identities to their employer - make them want to wear your brand.