Today, I sat through a classic early stage start-up discussion. The company, an unannounced early stage software company, is in the process of bringing on the first key hires post-funding.
Work is piling up, the opportunity awaits, time is of the essence...but, there remains an underlying tension with respect to the profile and capabilities of the first key hires.
Two profiles emerged in the discussion
- a proven performer with deep domain expertise and a track record of achievement in the given function versus
-a high-caliber athlete with incredible drive and passion that can be shaped into a high-achiever but without the defacto track record and resume.
Whom to hire - the proven performer or the eager, malleable beaver?
During the debate, one of the Hummer Winblad partners reminded the group of a mental framework Jack Welch employed at GE to help structure and clarify the issues.
He used a two-by-two diagram that plots cultural fit on the x-axis and proven performance on the y-axis. There then fall out four types of people:
- proven performers who are lousy fits = type A
- unproven performers who are lousy fits = type B
- proven performers who are great fits = type C
- unproven performers who are great fits = type D
Jack Welch concluded that type D trumps type A all day long. Type A hires are disruptive, wreck culture, and the short-term productivity gains do not justify the long term damage to the company's psyche. Type D hires, with the correct investment in mentoring, training, and coaching become, over time, the jewels of the company.
The risk for a start-up is do you have the time, competence, and resources to develop talent?
We will look for Type C employees all day long, however, reality and time pressures often dictate a choice between fit/potential and performance. Management wisdom suggests that fit and culture can become competitive weapons in building great companies.
Do the CEO and board of early stage companies benefit from hiring unbridled passion/malleable natures over mercenaries who get sh*t done but queer culture?
I certainly know whom I would rather work with.