Great companies are built by great people. The single biggest opportunity in company-building in tech companies is identifying the right talent who can execute on the vision and ultimately drive value for customers. It’s also the single biggest threat if you don’t get it right.
Building a great company requires different skill sets at each stage of an organization’s growth and development, but throughout the company’s life cycle, core values should not change. It starts with a focus on identifying, hiring and working to make your tech team successful so you all can create impactful outcomes for customers.
In doing so, I recommend these five guiding principles to building a great team:
Principle One: Everything Comes Back To What’s Right For The Customer
Customers come first, and your culture needs to reflect that. Their needs should drive your teams’ function and scale and help you evolve your products, partnerships and go-to-market strategy. Often, what we think a customer wants isn’t always what they really need. If you find yourself in that position, it’s a good sign that you’re not truly keeping your customer in mind.
Listening to your customers will always result in better products, greater satisfaction and loyalty and increased market demand. This makes it critically important to hire leaders who prioritize putting customers first. These individuals can subsequently build their own teams to grow customer-centric relationships and tactics across the organization. Organize your team around those priorities and establish processes to quickly deliver on them and your team will go far.
Principle Two: Hire Humble, Determined And Collaborative Leaders
Hire team players who are hungry to learn from one another, who are excited to collaborate and who will advocate for and celebrate your customers every day. These are not only humble people who check their egos at the door, but they are also determined leaders who focus on what they can build together, rather than how they can win or stand apart as individuals. They are persistent, and they don’t allow false starts or wrong turns to slow them down. Instead, they are maniacally focused on collaboration for customer success.
Principle Three: Take Personal Ownership
Lead by example and cultivate positive peer relationships and team dynamics. This starts with the executive team — from how we work with each other, our customers and our partners, to how we mentor and work with others. Regardless of roles or responsibilities, employees must have complete confidence that we are all in this game together to achieve our goals. Sometimes that even means admitting we’ve made a mistake. After all, we’re all human.
Principle Four: Radical Transparency
Being in a startup is like riding a rollercoaster, requiring physical and emotional stamina. There are high points and uncomfortable challenges, but everyone needs to believe in the company vision and understand the path to success, particularly during the tough stretches. Clearly defined goals — from customer wins to revenue targets to product updates — provide the first step toward accountability, and regular progress reports help everyone understand what’s working well and what isn’t. Shared financial statements, weekly stand-ups and regular one-to-one meetings build important trust and rapport. Helping employees feel more connected to the company as it grows will eliminate silos and keep everyone invested in achieving goals together.
Principle Five: Optimize Channels For Cross-Team Communication
It’s possible that great hires and leaders can land in the wrong role or may not communicate with other teams effectively. This is especially true in a startup, where things move quickly and teams change almost daily. Fixing this requires management processes to ensure the company has done enough to set people up for success. While this can be done through training, support, mentorship and periodic evaluation, individuals should understand how they and their team contribute to the larger company and customer goals, and feel empowered to speak up and “be heard” in situations that might not typically fall within their job description.
These qualities or core values aren’t always a sure predictor of success, but weighting them heavily in your evaluation process can go a long way toward avoiding hiring the wrong individuals, taking away from the core focus of putting the customer first.
With the frequent temptation to plug short-term holes at the expense of straying from your guiding principles, how do you stay focused and accountable for ensuring you have the right people you need to execute on a vision?