The Art of Hiring, Part I

In a tight labor market with rapid growth and the pressing need for the best talent, hiring is a capability that every great company needs to master. Earlier this month, we brought our CEOs together at Banyan’s headquarters in Orem to talk about how they hire, with Ken Davis of TaskEasy and Tom Clark of Banyan (formerly Social Dental) leading the conversation. This post is part one of two and includes some of the knowledge Ken shared with us, as well as his deck.

UPDATE: You find part two of two, with hiring tips from Tom Clark of Banyan, here

Ken Davis (CEO of TaskEasy)

  • Ignore the bad advice

“I jotted down some of the recent advice I’ve gotten on hiring: Only hire Stanford graduates. Or, in contrast, hiring from Ivy League schools is too expensive. Only hire local or people willing to relocate. Hire top heavy—startups can’t afford to not have experienced leaders. Don’t hire top-heavy—startups need worker bees, not expensive execs. These things usually come in these absolute statements, like ‘Thou shalt do this,’ and then you’re left there thinking, ‘What if I don’t do that? Am I a bad CEO?'”

  • Focus on the little things

“Whenever I go to lunch with people—I’ve done this my whole career for twenty years—I hop in the back seat (when I’m not driving), and junior employees will sit in the front. What it’s created is this interesting culture where nobody’s important just for the sake of being important. Having no class system is what creates a good culture.”

  • Turn negatives into positives

“We don’t have enough parking. There have been times that people will work for us for a week, realize that the four minute walk from their car to the office everyday is too much to bear, and then they’ll quit. So to solve the parking problem, I pulled all my managers together and said, ’The call center employees park close and we all park far away.’ These are twenty people who are the most senior people in the company and we’re all doing the four minute walk everyday now. Because of that, now there’s plenty of parking for all the call center employees. The amount of respect, the amount of loyalty we got out of that was huge, and it’s such a small thing.”

  • Trust your instincts

“I think trusting your instincts when you’re hiring is one of the hardest things to do. It’s even harder to trust your instincts when you’re letting someone go. When I finally let that person go [that I know I’ve needed to fire for three months], everything just goes so much better. All the worries I had about the one vital thing they did that I can’t do without them or other employees’ loyalty to them—those things all fade into the background. I challenge you—if you already know you need to let someone go, do it tomorrow.”

  • Find the people that do things better than you

“This is my rule of thumb for hiring. I will ask someone what they do best [during the interview], and if I can drill down on that topic, ask questions, and stump them, then they’re probably not a good candidate. Because if I’m giving them total latitude to tell me what they do best and they can’t do that thing better than me, then I don’t know what I’m hiring for because I need people to do things better than me. I’ll interview someone and they’ll say, “Oh, I love coding in Java.” I’ll say, “Great, describe your full stack,“ and I’ll keep going until they can’t answer a question in the field that they do best. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised and I get to a point where I literally can’t think of another question to ask.”

  • Don’t fear change

“Keep roles flexible. I recently made some changes in my organization and I made some teams where, instead of having one person at the top, I have two people at the top of my engineering team and two people at the top of my sales team. It’s a little weird, and I never would’ve thought of doing it in the past, but it’s working so well. It’s created a situation where they have to co-lead and their strengths and weaknesses balance each other out. I’m not advocating that you go do this—just be willing to try different things.”

  • Be wary of mediocre employees

“If you think of your employees on a scale of one to ten, your nines and tens are your top performers—they always show up, they always do more than expected. And then you have one through six, where they’re so bad that you’re fine when they quit and don’t show up. You know what I have the hardest struggle with? The sevens and eights. The reason why is that you’re constantly second-guessing yourself, thinking, ‘Oh, they’re so good, but oh, they’re not that good.’ You’re always in this mode where you’re not sure what to do with them. I got some good advice in the past that you should just cut them loose, because they’re going to cost you more time and energy than what they contribute to the company is worth.”

For more from Ken on hiring, see his LinkedIn post: Startup Hiring Practices are about Scrappiness, Culture and Hard Work, not Arbitrary “Rules of Thumb.”

UPDATE: You find part two of two, with hiring tips from Tom Clark of Banyan, here