Securing talent is always a challenge, but for me, hiring for a startup is the most difficult type of hiring. You can explain to candidates until you’re blue in the face that uncertainty is simply part of the game when your company is doing something brand new, but the reality of startup life still comes as a surprise to many once they’ve been hired.
Startups, either by design or due to scale, are usually flat in structure, with business units working very closely together and most employees balancing strategy and execution in their roles. This is true at Weploy, and since we’re aiming to triple our revenue this year, we have to think big. Small iterative changes just won’t cut it. All of this means employees often find themselves working in project teams, managing and influencing stakeholders.
When I looked at how Weploy achieved its successes over the past 12 months, I realized the defining characteristic of our most impactful employees has been great stakeholder management skills. Now that I am on the hunt for talent once again, I have decided to codify the traits that comprise “great stakeholder management” and use them as a scorecard to help me find the right people for the team. Here’s what that scorecard looks like:
1. Decisiveness and Accountability
First off is the ability to make decisions and clearly articulate the process of decision-making. When people struggle with decisions or always look to create consensus before taking action, it can kill a project.
However, it is also important that decisions are made with accountability. Employees must own their failures while taking from them lessons that the entire business can implement in the future. I hate the idea of embracing failure wholesale; failure is only useful if it does not result from incompetence and helps you avoid similar pitfalls in the future.
While some studies have shown that two heads are not always better than one, being decisive definitely does not mean you don’t collaborate. In general, good stakeholders always start by thinking about who should be involved at different stages of a project. Good collaboration is a managed process, not simply a matter of waiting to get input from anyone and everyone.
3. Communication and Prioritization
Of course, the desire to collaborate means nothing if you are unable to get alignment and buy-in from different stakeholders. The most important element of communication, then, is determining what information should be presented to which people and how often.
Tools such as the stakeholder matrix can help you determine how proactive communication about a particular project should be, but it is also essential to tailor the content of the communication based on seniority and the stakeholders’ own objectives.
When I talk about leadership with more junior candidates, they sometimes look puzzled. What I’m really looking out for here is how they build trust. For me, the foundation for leadership at any seniority is trust. People have to trust in you and your decision-making skills.
Closely related to leadership is leverage. From what I’ve seen, this is where a lot of more experienced managers fall down.
What I look for is someone who is always thinking about generating and sustaining momentum. It is easy to take on more work to achieve goals, but you can only scale this activity so far. I’m always looking for people who think about how to empower others so the sum of their efforts is multiplied.
While these are the traits I look for in candidates, these skills are not exclusively relevant to startup success. In fact, I looked for many of these same traits in candidates when I was at LinkedIn and in previous roles before that. In both large enterprises and emerging businesses, stakeholder management skills are critical to achieving big goals.
Ben Eatwell is CMO of Weploy.