In 2016 I founded my first business from zero, a last-mile logistics services provider for e-commerce. Initially, there were only 4 employees who took care of the operations. I and my friend took care of marketing and sales, accounting and operations with the help of these 4 employees. With time the business grew and our team grew with it. One thing we did not realize was that we were just hiring people without considering whether these people are the right people. We justified the lack of effort put into hiring with lack of time which seemed reasonable at the time. What mattered the most was getting stuff done, not who got stuff done. We were WRONG! The first major aspect that matters the most in a business is WHO. THE TEAM! an A TEAM!
It is not their Problem
At the start, we felt that we were on fire and can do anything by ourselves. To some extent, it was true because the company was tiny and the scale was small enough for us to manage the operations end-to-end. Hiring, Sales, Accounting, and operations were directly managed by both of us. In addition to managing, we were also part of the operation. We were working and playing almost all the roles available in the business at that time.
At the end of the day, we were quite tired and exhausted both physically and mentally that we didn’t have time to do the most important job. We didn’t have time to LEAD! We didn’t have time to DRIVE THE PURPOSE. Unfortunately, we didn’t know it because we were quite satisfied by the fact that we survived one more day and didn’t die. The business was still running and that’s the only thing that mattered. Keeping it alive.
There was a massive drawback to this way of working which we did not realize or understood at the time. The people we hired were so dependent on us. If I took a day off because I was sick, the next thing I know is that there is a problem. Everything has come to a stop because of this problem and no one solved it. No one had the courage or the ownership to solve the problems. They always looked up to us to solve the problems. It was not their problem! This was fine at that time because the company was small and a problem could wait for a day or two without killing the business.
Fast-forwarding to 2020, after 5 years since we founded the business I was still solving problems at the ground level. The company had grown from 4 employees to 200+. The only thing I could do with the limited mental capacity and the time available was to solve problems. I was storming my brain almost all the time to find solutions to sometimes simple and ground-level problems because STILL, it was not their problem. Was it their fault that they didn’t take the ownership and the responsibility to solve problems? NO! I made them be like that. It was not their fault. IT WAS MINE.
The success of any business solely depends on the people who run it. from the founders to the janitor! No matter what role each has to play, we all got to work in teams because no enduring company can be built alone. It always takes more than one brain to build an ENDURING business. Of course, a single person can found a business and build it to a certain scale, but to build an ENDURING company, it always takes a team! it takes an “A TEAM”. The failure we can do alone, but success.
An “A TEAM” gets things done, solves problems, and achieves results that contribute to overall business goals WITHOUT supervision.
How do we build one?
Who not What
The most common norm among most entrepreneurs including myself is that we look for people who do what they love doing. It’s the start-up culture. We do what we love. This sounds just right because no one wants to do things they hate. I didn’t want to do things I hate, so why expect others to do what they hate? Right? Well, it turned out to be not 100% true, efficient and effective when it comes to building an A TEAM which drives enduring businesses.
While it’s absolutely important that in a team, people do what they love and are passionate about, what makes it an A TEAM is that they do what they hate where necessary. Ordinary teams do only what they love. When things go south, they hold back and start to blame everyone else for the bad conditions. They don’t take the initiatives to turn the bad around into good or better. They just hold back. People in an A TEAM are total opposite when the bad comes. They start doing what they hate to become what they love.
The million-dollar question is, how do we find these people?
I learned that investing time and effort in any type of hiring is the key. Assess people subjectively. Assess based on not only their success and achievements but failure as well. People who have failed in the past and currently doing well are the ones who might have learned the lessons. They are more agile. They survived and are successful now probably because they did what they hated. It always comes down to ugly realities when things go south. things we hate. If someone faces those ugly realities and turns them around to good, they are the ones who survive. They are the ones you would want to hire. If someone has never failed, when things go south they are going to hold back and avoid the uncomfortable situations because they only do what they love. It’s not their responsibility to solve it. They can always quit. They have options. But WE CAN’T. WE DON’T!
Right not great
I used to hear all the time from other founders, investors, mentors, coaches, etc… that we should hire great people with great personalities and attitudes. It’s true. I believe it’s not 100% true purely based on my experience as a founder for the last 5 years. Mainly from what I learned when things went south and I had to shut my first business down. Having great people in our teams diffidently sounds great. But is it really what we need? Having great people? Probably not. I learned the hard way that having great people isn’t necessarily great. I learned that having the RIGHT people is the greatest thing when building an enduring business.
Every founder has a purpose, the reasons for the existence of the business which is driven by an incomparable and relentless passion. Not everyone can survive this passion. This very same purpose and passion drive a business forward and it’s never what we are doing. The problem with great people is that they have their own purpose and passion which might not align with the purpose of the business.
The right people on the other hand are aligned with the purpose of the business and they are passionate about it. They might not be the greatest people you can find, but they are the right people. People who believe in business goals and purpose and love doing what it takes to make it a reality are the right people you should onboard the bus. I’m sure this sounds familiar from a previous section in this writing. I discussed people who do what they love. Please do not misunderstand that loving what you do is different from doing what you love. The people who do what they hate to become what they love, love what they do!
Getting the wrong people off the bus is as important as getting the right people or even more important. Find the right people, not necessarily the great people. Find the people who are passionate about doing whatever it takes to achieve goals and serve the business’s purpose. Find people who did what they hate to become what they love. Don’t worry about skills. Skills can be learned and taught. The skillset we need today might become obsolete tomorrow so we gotta learn new skills always anyway.
Mine for copper
When it comes to getting people onboard leaders including myself often look for the best people. We want the cream of the cream. We want the best-qualified person to get what’s at hand right now done. We don’t care how much salary they ask for, as long as they are the best at doing what’s at hand currently. WE WANT THE GOLD. We all are gold diggers in some way.
Have you ever thought about what’s gonna happen once that person gets what’s at hand right now done?
The Gold we just hired will look tremendous at the start. If you are lucky enough probably for few years. They get things done in no time, They know all the answers to all the problems. They hit milestones in half the time. You are gonna be able to sit and relax. That’s why we all build businesses. They are just wonderful, aren’t they?
As founders, our first major hire for the head of operations was gold. He could solve all the problems at hand but few years down the line he was not able to grow further. He was challenged and offended because of new hires we were forced to do as he was not growing himself. Finally, he left the company putting a lot in jeopardy intentionally. You can avoid this from happening.
The best people are best for reasons. They have been through a steep learning curve and have come to the top of it. With the experience, they can see things before they happen and if a problem comes, they already know what to do because they have been through that problem already. Experience matters. This is a great place to be. But once a person is at the top, where do they go from there?
Often, the gold doesn’t go anywhere once they reach the top. The gold gets stagnated. After they have paid their dues, they get stagnated and start to look very ordinary. They don’t want to grow further. Most often when they are pushed to go one step higher, they collapse and it only gets worse. They start to decline and start to look nothing.
Stop digging for gold. Mine copper. Look for those who are passionate about what they will have to do. They don’t need to be the best to get what’s at hand currently done. As long as they can get it done even with a bit of a struggle, that’s just fine. The copper, the average skilled people who are passionate about what needs to be done today, often have a steep learning curve while in the job, while working with you for you. During this steep learning curve is the time people deliver extraordinary value. You want to have as much copper as possible because they all gonna go through their steep learning curve and deliver the best value. The gold had their steep learning curve elsewhere and delivered their best value elsewhere.
The copper usually doesn’t become gold. They become better than gold. They become the strongest drivers of the business. They recruit more copper and make sure the new copper becomes better than gold. The cycle continues. With time, you will be having an army of copper lead by generals who are better than gold disrupting the market and taking the business to levels you could never imagine.
I never got to mine copper. I was a gold digger and learned my lessons the hard way which is one of the reasons why I write this article so you can avoid doing the same mistakes.
Going back to 2018, it had been 2 years since we started the business and the growth was just going through the roof. There were more than 120 people working and more than 30 delivery centers across the island. WHAT A FEELING. I will never forget and will always cherish those moments. With a staff size that big, I was managing technology, process, and operations. About 50 people directly reported to me. 50 people! I thought I was leading them but unfortunately, I was managing not 100% leading them. By the time I realized this, it was too late in the day.
People define leadership in various ways but for me, it’s all about taking and owning accountability for both results and the consequences. An accountability structure defines who is responsible for what results. NOT what they are responsible to do. IT’S THE RESULTS!
An accountability structure defines who is responsible for what results. Not what activity.
The success of any business solely depends on the results achieved. It doesn’t matter what beautiful things we do. All the nice marketing campaigns, the charity, contributing to famous forums, etc don’t matter unless the expected results have been achieved. Founders cannot achieve these results alone. It always takes a team or teams to achieve the results.
As a founder, I was more focused on what needs to be done to keep the business going. I had forgotten my why and purpose. I had forgotten my goals. So did they! As a result, the people were also focused on what needs to be done. They were busy doing things and did not know or ignored the importance of achieving results. It’s not their fault. When a boss goes around and tells them to do this and that, it’s not building a culture of performance and results. We are just making them workaholics. When things go south, it’s quite simple for them to point out the fact that “Oh I did what you asked me to do”. They come as excuses. It’s not their fault. we could fire them for not achieving results or they will resign because they have options. They can always start another job. We don’t have options. We can’t quit.
From the beginning, it’s important to make sure people understand what is expected out of them. They need to understand and agree upon what results are expected from them and by when those results should be achieved. Let them decide how they are going to do it. Let them decide what they are going to do. However, ensure how and what is aligned with the business values and purpose. Ensure they don’t do illegal things!. Build a guide that explains what they are NOT allowed to do in achieving results.
Once expected results have been defined and agreed upon, make sure to review the progress regularly and consistently. Everyone faces roadblocks and leaders’ responsibility is to help people overcome these roadblocks. We might not know all the answers but we must for sure become the facilitators in solving problems. Ask questions, get into context, get into as much details as possible to understand problems. Often, they figure out the solutions themselves if we do our part right.
The success of any business solely depends on the results it achieves. Founders and leaders cannot achieve the expected results alone and we always need people. We need teams. Not just any team, we must build “A” TEAMs.
To build an “A TEAM”, it’s important we pay extra attention to who we onboard the bus. We need to pick the right people over great people. We need to mine copper instead of gold. Getting people who will deliver extraordinary value while learning on the job and later become better than gold. Focus on the copper.
Have a clear accountability structure. An accountability structure defines who is responsible for what results, not what activity. Make people understand and agree upon what results are expected from them. Don’t stop there and help them overcome roadblocks by being good facilitators. Be the right leaders!