As most of you know, I’m a big Evernote fan. When I noticed an article on hiring and keeping great people by Evernote CEO Phil Libin, I became all ears. I’ve listened to a couple of interviews with Libin, use his software every day, and wanted to see for myself what he thought was the best way to hire and keep the best. “I don’t think I can overstate this: Building, and keeping, a great team is the most important thing you can do as CEO,” he writes. “Having launched three companies, I can offer a few tips on hiring great people.”
You’re not going to be surprised by most of the list. In fact, if you’re like me, you’ll likely say to yourself, “Yeah, I knew that.” However, like most things, knowing and doing are sometimes not the same thing. Here’s his list:
- Recommendations from close friends (or just hiring close friends) is the best way to start: I currently work with a number of former colleagues (and friends) I’ve known for a few years. They are great people and known commodities as far as their capabilities. When we started working together here at Lendio, we already knew each others strengths and weaknesses. We knew how we would work together. Some of them, including my current boss, were here before I was, others are new to the team. Those that were here ahead of me had a good idea of what I would do and whether I was right for the job. Hiring an unknown after reading a resume is a different story—sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t. To encourage their employees to recommend people, Evernote offers a “generous bonus” if they end up hiring an employee referral.
- Hire people smarter than you (or at least smarter about their particular job than you are): “If you do this, not only will everyone be happier, but your employee-referrer pipeline will continue to bring in great candidates for years to come,” writes Libin. Some people let their ego get in the way and feel that they need to be the “brains” of the outfit. If you hire people that don’t measure up, Libin suggests you won’t be able to trust their references either. When I was at Response, if we didn’t find the right fit, we wouldn’t hire. We thought it was important to hire the right people and didn’t want to settle for the best person who applied. Even if it meant waiting. As a result, we got to work with some incredibly talented people.
- Make them write: This is something I’ve never done before, but sounds like a great idea. Libin gives candidates a writing assignment because he feels like you can tell a lot about a person’s personality from a few paragraphs of their writing. “Many people can pretend to be something they’re not in person,” he says, “but very few can do so in writing.” This is something I’m going to try the next time I need to hire someone.
- Make sure they talk sense: How we communicate with each other is incredibly important. If they can’t communicate clearly, you shouldn’t hire them. “This is a fast rule at Evernote,” says Libin.
- Be generous with benefits that help you team get stuff done: I like Libin’s assertion that you should assume that your employees want to do a good job. Most people don’t get up in the morning thinking, “Today I wanna suck.” Libin suggests we should “…eliminate any obstacles that you can that stand in the way of their productivity. Buy your employees lunch, make sure they have the best equipment, be flexible in your work schedule, keep the spouses and families happy, etc.”
- Don’t hire anyone you’re not willing to also fire: “This is unpleasant, but true,” he says. “Don’t hire anyone unless you’re confident that you’ll be able to fire them.” This is not to say that a cavalier attitude about hiring and firing is acceptable—it’s not. I’ve seen employers who care so little for their employees that they don’t give a second thought to people who end up leaving regardless of whether or not it’s voluntary or involuntary. However, sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may have hired the wrong person. One person in the wrong position can hurt morale, inhibit collaboration, destroy productivity, and cause unnecessary turnover. Most of the time, and Libin suggests the same thing, we hold on to people much longer than we probably should. Once someone is identified as a poor fit, we should ask ourselves a couple of questions: Is this person willing to learn the skills he or she will need to be a better fit? Is this person able to learn the new skills he or she needs to be a better fit? If not, they should be let go. It’s a lot like ripping of the Bandaid—it’s gonna hurt, but it’s only gonna hurt for a little while. A bad hire in the wrong place can sometimes do irreparable damage to the team and the organization. Libin even argues “…sooner or later, you’ll wind up firing a close friend. And no matter what you both say, you probably won’t be friends anymore.”
I like this common sense approach to hiring and keeping the best talent. What do you think? What are some of things you do to makes sure you hire and keep the best?