Thinking Differently, Part III: If You Build It, They Will Come (A Note on Hiring)

(Welcome to Part III of the Thinking Differently series, a collection of real-world experiences that illustrate Albert Einstein’s belief that “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Find Part I on CAN-ICE and Lean Canvas here, and Part II on Communicating Effectively here.)

Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams

Instead of saying (or posting), “I need a good VP of Sales” or “Where are all the good engineers?”, try a different angle. Cultivate the best possible environment for what you’re trying to accomplish; stay involved with the people you work with; and base your search on culture and fit instead of job description alone. A successful hire is integration with the culture, and the culture component is in your court.

Having spent the past 20+ years recruiting and hiring for companies ranging from Nike to internet startups to an eclectic coffee shop in the Colorado mountains, I’ve learned a lot through trial and error. I hope that the lessons I’ve learned will inspire your efforts to hire great people.

Simply put, the old way of hiring—outline job specs, post them online, receive formatted resumes, hire the most paper-qualified, and hope they work out—doesn’t fly anymore. At least not if you’re looking for a powerful and lasting fit with someone that will buy into your system and make meaningful contributions.

Today’s world requires a different approach, one that gives equal weight to the hiring process and the workplace culture. I’ve seen too many companies get that wrong, which is probably one of the most expensive yet preventable errors that executives can make. Here are some ways that we can hire better:


Start with Introspection

In an earlier blog post, I encouraged you to identify your core purpose. Now I’m encouraging you to identify that of your company. We refer to this as the company’s core values or deeply held beliefs. What are its overarching goals? What values do you share with your team? What do you expect from one another? What are you doing to weave that into the environment? These are important questions to consider before you can fairly expect new hires to align with the company’s mission.

Once you’ve taken a good, hard look inward, you’re ready to shift your focus outward and initiate the hiring process. Visualize the process like this: write your company culture and values on a sign, hold it up high, and invite good fits to consider the possibility of joining. How exactly you do that depends on the type of employee you need.


Three Groups of Employees

Each hire can be classified into one of three broad groups:

1. Doers: those who perform the core tasks of a business, be it service or physical

  • Where: Doers can be found in abundance, often by posting to Craigslist, at universities, or on sites like Luke’s Circle.
  • Tip: It's important to lead your search with core values, but also to clarify the daily tasks and work up front so candidates can choose to join the culture (value to them) and you can expect their best efforts at work (value to the business).
  • Motivation: In my experience, Doers often have different motivations and aspirations than the other two groups. For example, they may not respond to an offer of equity or profit sharing (like my coffee shop employees), but may be more motivated by workplace values such as diversity or work-life balance.

2. Managers: those who run and manage your vision; often supervise Doers and protect the culture

  • Where: Often, we can develop Doers into Management over time, as their perspectives change and trust is established. Job sites such as Luke’s Circle are great resources when you have a strong culture of core values to share and back your company's story.
  • Tip: In regards to management, the right people make all the difference. If job sites don’t deliver, you need to actively recruit (see Riderflex for a great example). Recruiters search to identify managers outside of your network that share your values, usually using LinkedIn for lead generation and then filtering a large pool down to a small group of individuals who have both the experience you need and a high match to your culture and core values. Cost: 20% of the manager’s annual compensation.
  • Motivation: I find that great managers are less likely to jump from company to company for a nominal pay increase. However, when you tap into the core values that make your workplace unique and attractive, show applicants your vision for your business, and demonstrate how their contribution will impact that vision, that opportunity alone may incite them to join your team.

3. Leadership: the partners that create the vision, mobilize the people, and drive positive change

  • Where: As with all hiring, start with your personal network. Every time I meet a leader that I believe could make a great culture fit and business partner, I add him or her to my talent folder (or pipeline). By maintaining strong relationships with these treasures, I'm able to reach out to those that fit leadership positions as new roles arise.
  • Tip: Talent pipelines don't always come through, and these positions are too important to leave unfilled. Ask yourself: What will it cost to not fill the role? If the answer is significant sales or company growth in some way, I suggest you engage an executive search firm to conduct a nationwide search. Firms such as Integrated People Solutions ( use their database, LinkedIn, and other external tools to first identify leaders with the skills, talents, and experience you need (the stuff of resumes). But most critically for your inbound leaders, they also search for matches to your core values, which is highly correlated with long-term success and retention. Cost: 33% of your leader's annual compensation (a lot, but well worth it since the stakes of this position are so high).
  • Motivation: A leader’s motivation should be tied to his or her core values. Be wary of leaders that cannot communicate or convince you of their deeply held beliefs.


How It’s Done at Black Lab Sports

To attract quality people to the Black Lab Sports team, I hold up a sign about who we are and what we care about. By that, I mean that I work hard to cultivate a culture that’s vibrant and dynamic and creative and collaborative—not unlike an athletic field, but with less violence and more furniture. I want this to be something my people go home and brag about, a place in which they’re fired up to spend their days, and importantly, somewhere that I also want to be!

Having established the culture and values we want to propagate, those become the bedrock for our hiring process. When we have an opening, we invite people to apply for whom our message, mission, and culture resonate. Our ecosystem attracts potential fits through our doors all the time, and instead of starting from scratch when we’re ready to expand, I start with the connections I’ve been building and nurturing (our talent pipeline). If it doesn’t look like the hire will come from that network, I then turn to an external party to cast the net wider. With either route, I do my best to assess how well the candidate will mesh with and enhance our ecosystem.


Final Thought

Identify your company's core purpose. Let your culture be the basis for your search. If you create the best environment, the best people will come.