Change is inevitable as an organization scales, and the desperate rush to fill holes in a rapidly expanding engineering team can cause leaders to overlook the bigger picture. When an organization can resist the temptation to focus only on the here and now, it will be in a much stronger position to adapt to unforeseen needs down the line.
Change and growth can also cause cultural issues that, when not managed correctly, may impede innovation and efficiency. Tammy Perkins, chief people officer of Fjuri, recently sat down with me for a Q&A to discuss strategies for recruiting and hiring that can manage these issues and help build a future-proofed engineering team. Her insights are below.
Duffy: At sodo we talk about diversification of the roles and ensuring that hiring addresses existing weaknesses and empowers change. From your view, what does diversification in hiring mean?
Perkins: One of the key factors to success is making sure that you don’t hire people just like you. Instead of hiring for a culture fit, look for a culture add: the missing voice at the table, someone that will add different skills or credibility to the team. That will help drive innovation and new ideas as you continue to evolve.
Hiring to your weaknesses, not your strengths, is a very introspective process. Finding where the team is weak and where it can improve is an exercise that not many people are deliberate about.
Hiring for individual strengths will help the team because people will be inspired to perform. When you’re doing something that’s in your sweet spot, it is motivating. From an employee perspective, you’re amplifying that person’s superpower. From a team perspective, you’re leveraging the strengths of others, and focusing on what makes everyone unique will bring more to the team.
Another thing you have discussed is empowering the people you bring on. This speaks to the superpower you just mentioned. How do you ensure that people will be empowered once they come on?
Sometimes a fear of failure prevents people from being successful. So you want to empower people to make decisions and drive forward, while creating a culture where you’re asking for feedback. That way, it’s not all top-down. It’s bottom-up.
What are some ways you can do that? You have talked before about continuous learning and being open to change. What are your thoughts there?
In terms of learning, it’s crucial to avoid groupthink and encourage people to continue to learn new skills and bring new ideas to the table. You want to model that and have different types of processes within the team or mechanisms where you’re sharing out “here are some new things that I learned this week.” It can be something that’s outside of the particular project that the team is working on. It can be something that is sharpening their skill set as they continue to evolve.
Flexibility is also critically important to growth. If you have people who have a learner mindset and they’re agile, they will be able to scale with new ideas for the future. So you can look at that through the hiring process and hire for the future, versus hiring for the particular role that you have. Also, through your development process, ask the team, “What are some ways that we can be better?” Continuous feedback and improvement is important for a team to be able to scale.
I often find that when I’m building a new team, I have an image in my head of what a role is going to be. I sell someone on that role, then they hit the ground, and within the first two weeks everything changes because what I envision the role was going to be is different from what’s actually needed. How do you deal with those shifts?
First of all, make sure that you hire people who are scrappy and agile enough that they can evolve. If the role changes or you triple in size or sell a new product or do something completely different, those type of people will be able to evolve and adapt. My biggest piece of advice is, don’t hire for a particular role, hire for people who can scale with your company.
Also, when thinking about building for the future, look at some of the long-term strategies that you have. I would recommend selling candidates and your existing employees on the future and the values that you have for the company. If you get really narrowly focused on a particular role, you may miss out on some of the great things that are going to happen in the future. I think tech is uniquely positioned in the fact that the roles change and ebb and flow. It’s almost like pouring water in a cracked floor. The water tries to find where the right opportunities are. I think that’s the same in tech. An organization evolves and different things become important over time. I think setting those expectations upfront is important.
Sometimes the culture within a company is weaker than the strength of the opinions that are being brought in. What are some things that a company can do to make sure that the minds meet?
That’s when you anchor the leadership values as a part of your organization, not just what they do but how they do it and how they deliver. That becomes a key success factor. It’s not just words that you have in your handbook or something that’s on your website. You live it, you breathe it, you own it, and that’s how you define success. Experienced leaders come in, and while they bring great depth of experience, they’re also a part of the leadership values. And they need to role model that as well. Have those values written down and internalize them first, and then you can bring that person on board and say, “This is how we do things.”