Innovative Recruiting

The technology role at any company can be a tough one. It is truly one of the most demanding roles within many organizations regardless of the company’s size. This blog post is for the people not in the technology group looking to understand tech teams better or for technology folk seeking some innovative ways to address an age old problem…recruiting.

There are issues common to all teams/groups within a company. However there are some distinct differences that make technology more challenging than most roles within an organization. Some quick points.

  1. While the training, rules and knowledge that most positions in a company require to be successful are fairly standard, technology is a totally different beast. For example: a sales team is pretty much a sales team. Basic skills are transferable, and you’re either good or you aren’t. The same can be said of customer support, accounting and host of other positions common to business.
  2. When hiring for one of these positions, good people can still be difficult to find. However, a sizeable pool of good people usually exists to pull from since basic training and qualifications are standard.
  3. Technology requirements in organizations are always changing. While the basics usually apply across the board, each company has its unique application of technology for its business needs, executive quirks, funding and dozens of other factors. The tech professional must navigate all of these.

Serving basic technology needs for a small company is relatively easy since most company usually have common requirements to function when they are small. As the company grows, it gets much more interesting.

In the beginning, “generalist” skills are needed. This usually means the company hires “jack of all trades” people. A jack of all trades is very versatile and serves the company well early on since they are usually able to handle a multitude of varying requirements with an knack for learning different skills. Basic technology needs are met.

As the company grows, it begins to see the need for “specialists” meaning personnel that have a specific skillset and 80% of the time they are focused job functions that level that skillset. The strength of the specialist is they normally have a drive for excellence and a higher capacity in their specialty than a generalist. The drawback of a specialist is that while they have a high capacity for accomplishment within their field, they generally lack the ability to bridge the gap with other required skillsets to accomplish the company’s goals. Hence the need for a generalist or project manager.

For example
Generalist duties: Programming, server management, ecommerce, email marketing, graphics.

Specialist 1: graphic/creatives
Specialist 2: programmers
Specialist 3: pay per click marketing
Specialist 4: analytics
etc.

This brings us to the the real challenge and the purpose of the post. Recruiting.

Good tech generalists and specialists can be difficult to find. Many companies follow a “butts in seat rule” and it amazes me how many people get hired after just one interview. I believe the number of interviews someone goes through before they are hired is reflective of the importance the company places on finding quality people and how protective they are of their company’s culture. This model usually results in constant turnover caused by poor leadership lacking clear vision for how technology benefits the business. It is quite common for the executives in this setting to see technology as a “necessary evil” thereby ensuring that the company’s technology needs and funding are never adequately met.

Company’s that place a high value on protecting their company’s culture leverage a heavy investment on finding and screening the best people into their organization. Here’s a brief rundown of our interview process minus a few steps for length.

  1. Application questionnaire (questions about basic company familiarty, basic culture, skillset overview)
  2. Skillset survey
  3. Code/portfolio submission
  4. Phone interview – describe your typical week on a personal and professional level
  5. In person interview with direct supervisor (includes meeting with co-workers/team)
  6. Personality profile / budget (relative to our culture)
  7. HR interview
  8. VP/Department Leader Interview
  9. References called
  10. Executive VP Interview

Here’s a quick overview of some of things we are doing to recruit.

  • Employment listing on our website (primary driver of applications)
  • Posting on various specialty websites…mixed results (authenticjobs.com, joelonsoftware.com, dice.com)
  • Posting on common sites (monster.com, careerbuilder.com)
  • Posting on craigslist.com (best results of websites)
  • Listing in local special classifieds
  • College/university relationships with department heads
  • Specialty bi-fold business cards that contains: technology overview, company culture, free product offer to introduce people to our brand
  • $250 referral bonus for employee

In addition to the above, we’ve implemented a few things to introduce the industry to our team.

  • for the designers, a team portfolio of the work they’ve done including web, print, video media
  • for the programmers: a team video with interviews from our team
  • for the programmers: a team blog maintained by several of our programmers/tech leader
  • make contacts with other industry professionals and arrange speaking opportunities for our internet leadership team

Upcoming things we will be trying

  • Presence at large technology events like Adobe Max
  • Open sourcing some of our code to build a reputation in the industry

Recruiting for a technology team is no easy task. Finding top talent is difficult. Finding top talent that fits your company’s culture is even more challenging.

Getting It Done…Well

Work can be overwhelming at times. The sheer volume of things that need to be done in a thriving business can be quite intimidating at times. I used to think as I was at my limit, and I was for that time. Fortunately or unfortunately, my limit has increased over the years, and my responsibilities have changed as well. I’ve learned that in addition to managing my own limitations, I also have to manage the limitations of my team. What a challenge it is. One of the limiting factors of management is handing off tasks and projects. It can be a delight or an abysmal challenge.

Today, as I sat with one of the guys on my team going over a project, we took a moment to engage in some interesting conversation about handing off tasks, and communication about projects. When handing off a task, my goal is to make sure I’ve done my best to communicate what’s expected. I’m not always successful, but like I said, its a goal. He made an interesting comment about my style of handing off projects by making a list and then asking him to clarify his understanding of what I had asked him to do.

I’ve seen a lot of bad communication even on the executive level…the guys/gals that are supposed to get it right quite frequently get it wrong. Quick fast communications in the hallway, blowing through points in fast paced meetings, phone calls that take place in the blink of an eye, emails that are only partially thought through, and the list keeps going. Then we wonder why somebody doesn’t deliver. In the words of Charlton Heston, “It’s a madhouse!”

As our conversation continued, I asked him if he had read The One Minute Manager to which his reply was “No”. I quickly covered the basics.

1) Clearly communicate what is expected to the person you are asking to do the work.
2) Don’t assume they got it all, ask them to repeat it back to you.
3) Once the task is complete, do a review. How did it turn out? Commend them and make suggestions on possible ways to improve.

My boss, Dave Ramsey, listed this as required reading for us back in 2001. It has been a valuable tool since that time.

CIO Meeting #4

Our company is growing…fast. When I started way back in March 2001, I was the 33rd employee. Seven and half years later, we have 225. My team, the Internet Business and Technologies group, is just over 40 with plans to hire 10+ more this year. Exciting…challenging.

While running a successful business unit is tough, rapid growth makes it even tougher. Dave has always challenged his leadership team to focus on growth. Dave often quotes John Maxwell, leadership training guru. In 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John mentions “The Law of the Lid” which is basically this…You are the “Lid” of your organization. Your organization will only grow to the limits that you put on it. Grow yourself so your company can grow. With the growth our company has seen, I’ve really felt the pressure over the last 18 months to make sure I’m prepared for the future.

Each year I try to identify things I can change. Try on a new approach. This year, I wanted figure out a way to accelerate my leadership growth. While books and reading are good, I was missing a vital piece. High level business relationships. To make sure I will be able to fulfill the company’s future needs, I set a goal of meeting 5 CIOs this year. Today, I met with the 3rd. Andy Flatt of HealthSpring.

Andy is a great guy and very knowledgeable. I’ve really enjoyed meeting and discussing business technology with each of the CIOs so far, but I got and especially cool nugget today. At our company, we require a personality profile to be completed during the application process. Andy also has his team complete personality profiles, with a little twist. They use colored lego blocks to represent the different personality types and then each team member has their stack displayed so other team members know how to best communicate. Here’s their color code

Red = Driven, D, Lion
Yellow = Relational, I, Otter
Green = Serving/Loyal, S, Golden Retriever
Blue = Detail Driven, C, Beaver

Primary personality type is placed on top, followed by the 2nd highest, etc. I’m now planning to implement this for our team and hope to have it in place within 30 days.