Monday, May 10, 2010

Lessons from Rework: Our latest post on

See below and here for the latest article in our column on, Hire Up!

We recently started using BaseCamp, the project-management website from 37Signals. We love our Excel spreadsheets and to-do lists, but it was finally time to move to something a bit more, well, cohesive. The folks at 37Signals really understand the needs of small businesses--primarily the importance of keeping things simple. The 37Signals programs are easy to use. They eschew unnecessary bells and whistles and are easy to figure out-- even for those who don't self-identify as tech savvy.

Coincidentally, we started using BaseCamp about the same time the 37Signals founders released the book ReWork, which applies the "keep it simple" philosophy to a variety of business situations.

In particular, the chapters on hiring caught our eye. Hiring decisions are among the most challenging for a business owner. And with good reason--each time you add someone to your team, you need to invest time in training. And, as we all know, time is money. ReWork provides a refreshing framework for thinking about taking this step.

  1. Do it yourself first. The writers suggest that before you hire someone for a job you spend some time in that position yourself. For example, the founding team spent three years doing customer support before hiring someone for that role. They argue that in order to effectively hire for a job, you need to know exactly what the job requires. And, they say, the only way to gain that perspective is to do it yourself first.

    The good news is that in the early days of a business, most of us wear so many different hats that we genuinely understand the requirements for success in a given role. We love the "roll up your sleeves" mentality, but the one caveat we'd add is that as you grow and scale, you can't possibly (and shouldn't) be doing all the functions that you hire for. The very reason you're hiring is so you don't have to do every single thing.
  2. Resumes are ridiculous. Well, maybe not ridiculous, but they're really a one-dimensional way to assess whether a candidate is right for you. You can learn just as much (if not more) about someone by how she communicates with you, including whether she's passionate about your business, as you can by looking at a list of credentials. Another important piece of information about a resume: How does it look? That's right. It might seem superficial, but a candidate's resume is your first and best example of the candidate's finished work product--and a good indication of what her work on the job will look like.
  3. Delegators are dead weight. We think this applies in small businesses even more than it does in big companies. On a small team, everyone needs to do the heavy lifting. There is absolutely no room for someone who needs a lot of support and resources to accomplish his or her goals, particularly since you're hiring so someone can support you. You simply can't be working with people who pass the buck.
  4. The best people are everywhere. We couldn't agree with this point more. Thanks to all the modern communication tools out there, geography is becoming less and less important in making hiring decisions. Virtual work is no longer a novel concept, and there are many benefits to it. You don't need to increase your overhead by adding additional office space, and you can choose to work with someone in your time zone or someone who burns the midnight oil while you sleep. Most important, you can hire the best candidate and not just the one that's best for you given your location. However, make sure you've got the tools in place to properly manage and communicate with your virtual team--Skype, text, webconferencing, etc.

As an entrepreneur, you're always looking for ways to be more productive. Leave it to the productivity experts to come up with these great hiring tips. We'll definitely be paying attention to whatever they come up with next.

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