Leadership Lessons a Year In Part II : On Hiring

In the last year and a half, in addition to building a new platform, we have also built a team almost entirely from the ground up.  I have been a part of the hiring committee for everything from Product Management and Design to Engineering and Site Merchandising.  I have lost count of how many individuals I have interviewed but we have hired over 30 people that I interviewed so given our hit rate, my guess is I’ve interviewed about 4-5 times that number. 

Given the varying degrees of success new joiners have had in the company, I want to outline some of they key things I have learnt on what to look for no matter what role you’re hiring.

On Hiring:

1. Look for infinite learners : At a company like FTD, where every team member plays a hugely critical role in our journey, the people who have added the most value have been the ones who are inherently intellectually curious.  These are the Product Managers who try to understand how distribution centers work, the Engineers who read Product Management blogs, the Designers who spend hours with Florists trying to get to the heart of what our customers want.  The people who don’t add value are the ones who have stagnated in their learning and are content to keep doing things the way they have always done them.  So, ask questions like, “Tell me something new you have learnt in the last year” and probe till you understand what they learned not just what they did.  Ask them to give you ways in which they improve on their craft.  Pay attention to the questions they ask you during the interview.  Sean Johnson wrote this great article on how pursuing mastery of your craft is one of the critical steps to building a career flywheel.  In the words of Sean, look for people who are treating their career like a balance sheet vs. an income statement.

2. Hire for fit AND talent : I repeat this in almost every interview I do at FTD.  Over the last year, across the board, we have hired for fit as much for talent.  We have never hired someone who is not talented but we have walked away from plenty of talented people who would not have fit into our culture.  Like the person who told me he wasn't comfortable taking on a job where he didn't know which product he was going to manage on day 1.  I think it is a perfectly reasonable expectation to have.  But we also have a culture where roles and responsibilities are rapidly evolving - growing, shrinking, growing exponentially again.  Bringing someone on that doesn't embrace that would have been detrimental for him as well as for FTD.  Figure out questions that will help you determine how closely their idea of a good culture resembles what you have.  I often find people will say they love a fast paced culture but are unwilling to adapt to the flexible mindset the fast paced culture needs.  People will say they want to have autonomy but don't have the grit to solve difficult, nebulous problems independently.  Culture fit is not just about figuring out if you would want to hang out with this person after work.  Every workplace has positives and negatives.  You want to find someone who finds the positives exhilarating and is not terribly bothered by the negatives.

3. Hire for diversity : This is something I learned from Jay Topper.  I used to look for people that reminded me of myself.  The more closely our skills and working styles aligned, the more excited I felt.  What I have learned over the last year is to also look for qualities that you don't have.  If you are all strategy, you want to look for someone who is fabulous at execution.  If you are not technical, look for someone who is really good with technology.  Complementary skill sets in your direct reports become particularly important as you scale as a leader and the lines between managers and directs start to get blurry.  I have learned to really appreciate people who don't speak the same language as I do (figuratively and literally 😀) and to seek out additive skill sets in each of my direct reports.

4.  Hire people who enjoy being “plank owners” : Again, the term “Plank Owner” is something I learned from Jay.  It’s origins are from the United States Navy and it is meant to imply that a crew member was around when the ship was being built and commissioned, and therefore had bragging rights to the “ownership” of one of the planks in the main deck.  The most awesome partners I have had have full appreciation for the fact that they are an integral part of our turnaround story and if they don’t give it their all, there might not be a turnaround. It has been amazing working alongside people who push you to think fast, react fast, fail fast and above all keep moving. My colleagues at FTD have been unlike any other team - none of us acts like we are playing with house money and every little win we have has a tremendous amount of blood, sweat and tears behind it because each of us is vested in not resting till our main deck is built.

This is Part II of my 'Leadership Lessons a Year In' series.  You can read Parts 1 and 3 here and here.