How to Foster a Culture of Growth

A culture of growth starts with your people. Employees with the right will and skill will make your customers happy and your company successful. The economy must be doing well. Over the past several months, I’ve had multiple friends reach out to me and ask about the best practices to help create stronger internal processes and a culture that will help their businesses scale. The more I thought about what it takes to create a strong culture that can help your businesses scale, the more I thought this would be a great topic to write about in my blog.

Here are some of my thoughts on how to help take any company to the next level. No matter if you are a small startup, a company that is kicking ass and buying your competition or even Google, Amazon or Microsoft, hopefully you will be able to take away a few ideas to implement in your organization (or at least remind you of what you already know and need to prioritize). These best practices are critical when hiring the best and most diverse candidates and, more importantly, keeping top talent at your company!

It Starts with the Right Job Description

It’s amazing to me how many companies get this wrong. Your team, division or company is finally in a position to bring in fresh blood, and they do not take the time needed to get it right and create an intriguing and thorough job description. You need to take the time upfront to figure out who you need and what they need to succeed. For years, I’ve made it mandatory that no one can start to fill an open position before they complete the basics (a new position or even a replacement).

Here are some ideas on the right job description and supporting documents:

  • Some of these are easy, like job title, but do not be too generous; you can always give a more senior title to someone more qualified, but it’s much harder to give them a less senior title when they were sure they could get the more senior role. Not only is it easier to give someone a more senior job title before you hire them, once they are part of the team and exceeding expectations, it’s much easier to promote someone for exceeding expectations than demoting them because they are not living up to a specific role.
  • In the job description, create a purpose statement for the specific role. Define exactly what they are going to be doing and why they are doing it.
  • Layout the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to define what success means in this role. So many companies hire employees into vague roles and try to define success as they go.
  • What is the 90-day success plan and how are they going to be evaluated? Before you hire anyone, make sure they understand not only what success means in this role, but also what processes you have to track their performance. It’s much easier to have these conversations upfront before they get started.

The First Interview

“You only get one chance to make a first impression” – and I’m not talking about your first reaction to the candidate. You would not believe how many companies screw up the first interactions with their new candidates. A strong, long-lasting relationship starts with the very first interaction. That includes communication, scheduling and the interview. Here are some pointers:

  • It’s called “recruiting” for a reason – it’s not just called “hiring.” To get the best people, you will need to recruit them from the beginning.
  • Start at the very first communication. Be thoughtful about who is replying, how long it takes to respond and what the messaging is in every interaction.
  • Make sure to screen out candidates that will not fit the specific role before you even call them back. You do not want to bring in a “maybe” candidate and let the interviewer biases start to kick in. You also need to understand that it’s human nature for your mind to think, “How can I work with this person?” rather than “Why are they here?” and “What are they not telling me?”
  • Focus on the details of every touch point. Never miss the opportunity to ask more questions. Why did you transition? When did that happen? Whose choice was that decision? Given what you know, what have you learned and what would you have done differently?
  • Make sure the interviewers are trained. You may think people know how to interview, but do not take for granted how much better the interview process will be for both when the interviewer has been through the proper training.
  • With a tighter process, you can actually include more of the team in the interviewing process. Give evaluation forms to all points of contact.
    • The receptionist, admins, driver or anyone else that has the opportunity to communicate with the candidate – and listen to their feedback.
    • You can really tell who people are by looking at how they treat people they do not think they have to be nice to. You need to see how people act when they think they are not being interviewed. This is the best view into how they will treat others.
  • Have multiple interviews in different settings.
    • People start to let their guard down as they feel more comfortable.
    • Putting them in multiple situations allows the interviewer to track consistency.
    • How do they communicate with the waiter when you take them to lunch? Are they respectful, or are there signs that might worry you when they become more comfortable?

The final note of warning – make sure to be aware that their personality traits will only grow as they become more comfortable in their new role. I have found that money and/or power do not make you happy or sad. All they do is remove your filters and you become more of who you really are. Be careful. You are about to elevate this new employee’s position with money and maybe even more power. You are responsible not just for hiring the best and most diverse candidates, but you are also the real judge in tracking how successful each new hire is. Their true personality and capabilities will come out soon!

Onboarding – Setting Everyone up for Success

You do not want to be the manager or employer that is so happy that they found someone to fill that empty spot that you skip your normal on-boarding processes and just throw the new employee into their role. When you do this, you must understand that you have just missed an amazing opportunity to help grow your culture in the right direction by making sure all new employees learn more about the company and culture.

  • You will never have more impact and influence with your employees than in the first month.
  • Take the time and make it mandatory for every employee to go through a thorough on-boarding process.
  • Make a part of the on-boarding process fun. Things like a scavenger hunt about the company and the managers and executive team make the company seem more real.
  • Do not let hiring managers make shortcuts because their need is “urgent.”
  • Set up and track a mentoring program that is not too cumbersome for either the mentor or the mentee.
  • Ask for feedback on the hiring process – you will not only learn how to improve, but also it shows your new employee that feedback is appreciated.

Training That Makes a Difference

No matter how experienced your team is, you should always make personal and professional training available. Especially when you hire the best and the brightest, they will have a desire for personal and professional growth. There are some amazing resources out there to help train your employees. You may also want to make some training mandatory – things like management training for new managers, interview training before anyone can interview, diversity training to help grow diversity and harassment training to make sure no one has any excuses. Here are some good resources:

Successful Performance Feedback

Remember when I said you want to set expectations upfront? Well, setting the right expectations around performance feedback is one of the best ways to make sure the proper performance feedback procedures are maintained all year round. You should have policies in place to make it very clear to the employees when they are going to be receiving and giving structured feedback.

  • Review the KPIs that they will have to maintain within the first two weeks of their hire (hopefully this was also done in the interviewing process).
  • Make it very clear how often you will be reviewing the KPIs going forward.
  • Make sure all levels have weekly or bi-weekly 1:1 meetings – these meetings are more for the subordinate to get clarity than they are for the manager to “manage” (you can set up other meetings to make sure you are reviewing the PKIs).
  • Implement skip level 1:1 meetings in less regular intervals (this is a great way to break through the “don’t tell my manager” issues and false hierarchies).
  • Whether you implement quarterly, biannual or annual performance reviews, make sure that the entire company is on the same schedule.
  • Use tools like the Nine Box to help managers communicate where the employees fit based on their Will and Skill. (AKA, Potential and Performance)
  • Do not show the employees the names of their coworkers on the Nine Box, but do not be afraid to show them where they stand compared to the other anonymous employees.
  • Set up a program to get employees back on track.
  • Either move to a new role or replace employees that are in the extremes. We all know them: it’s that great programmer with a horrible attitude or that team cheerleader that everyone likes that is an under performer when it comes to their deliverables.

Of course, I did not list many of the basics above. Things like the importance of your company having a clear vision with core values that everyone understands and lives byespecially the executives!

As you may know, I am a big fan of people and strong leadership. Unfortunately, there seems to be more bad managers out there that think their subordinates are there to make them successful rather than having the managers there to make the team successful. If you have not already done so, you can read more on my leadership philosophies… H.E.A.R. Leadership.

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