One of my clients, the CEO of a financial advisory firm, had a rough 2017. Before we met, he had hired a COO that did not fit in with his company’s clearly established positive culture. The new hire had the wrong energy, was not a people-person, and contributed to low morale and a toxic environment. The kicker was, my client knew this in advance.
You’re probably wondering, “Why on earth would he hire this COO?” Well, my client needed to hire quickly and thought he could hide this person in the operations department. He hoped that as long as this negative individual didn’t interact with clients that nothing would go wrong.
He was, of course, incorrect. Desperate to fill the position, he ignored the age-old “Hire slow and fire fast.” You have probably been in the same position and made a rush hire. Most entrepreneurs do at one point or another—and always come to regret it.
Fortunately, the COO lasted only nine months. It could have been worse. But my client lost a few key Client Relationship Managers in the process, and the remaining team members—along with many clients—were concerned about sudden staff turnover.
The CEO worked hard to convince his clients, his team, and his new hires that his firm was still a great place to work. He spent more time in meetings and crafting company communications than ever before. This was for the better, as he now has a much more consistent and effective communication strategy and has rebuilt team and client confidence.
His big lessons are ones we should all learn:
First, remember that internal culture is incredibly important. (For a great book on building this, read “The Culture Code: Secrets of Highly Successful Groups” by Daniel Coyle.) No matter how talented, a new hire with the wrong attitude can be extremely disruptive to your organization.
Second, hire slow. You only delay the pain when you rush to fill a job opening. And it doesn’t matter what position you’re filling; from customer service representatives to the COO, a disruptive employee can be the cancer that contaminates your positive culture. When that spreads, you lose even your most loyal team members.
Third, improve communication with your team. Meet with each individual more often. Don’t let information vacuums arise. When they do, it’s human nature for rumors to fill the void, and this can take a lot of time and energy to overcome.
Now let’s take this beyond lesson-learning. How can you take action today to be sure your company culture remains intact and growth is unhampered?
1) Establish Core Values for Your Company
We recently revamped our core values at Early to Rise. Taking an idea from Gino Wickman’s book, “Traction,” I asked our team members to participate in a Core Values Collaboration project. Each team member had two weeks to submit up to 10 values that represented both our company and our clients. From those submissions, I narrowed it down to a total of 10, and our team chose their top five. We ended up very happy with both the final core values, and the team-building process along the way. Here they are:
1. Constantly improve the lives of others.
2. Customer focus is number one.
3. Focus on impact. Ignore the noise.
4. Pursue growth and drive change.
5. Never give up on what’s important.
Our team is encouraged to print these out and keep them at their desk. I also review them in our weekly team email and highlight a team member that exemplifies one of the core values in their work each week.
2) Develop a Management Rhythm Blueprint
In our leadership course, available at ETR University, my partners Matt Smith and Jeff Schneider teach the importance of weekly one-on-one meetings with direct reports. We call these Goal, Set, and Review meetings. They establish clear communication around individual work expectations for the week, and help grow team members while removing obstacles to success.
We also teach the importance of having an all-hands Weekly Alignment Meeting (WAM) every Monday. This allows the team to share roles and responsibilities, clearly communicate objectives and goals, and to discuss major projects and deadlines. It’s a chance for Sally from Marketing to explain how she is under a tight timeline for the week, and how Mary from Accounting might be able to chip in and make life easier.
While you may think you’re too busy for these meetings, the reality is the opposite. A well-run meeting rhythm paves the way for greater team member autonomy and higher performance. It engages your team and encourages proactive decisions, allowing your business to grow faster and become stronger.
3) Hire Slow, Fire Fast
One of the most common mistakes I see in my coaching clients is that they hire too quickly from too small a pool of applicants. In many cases, small business owners are rushing to fill a position because a team member resigned or was fired. But these rush decisions, along with poor interviewing techniques, quickly come back to haunt them.
At ETR, we encourage the use of historical interviewing (doing a deep-dive into personal and professional history) and doing multiple interviews (often involving different team members in each interview). For a much more in-depth look at this interview process, I encourage you to study the Topgrading system.
I also coach my clients to establish a list of non-negotiable cultural values that new hires should bring to the team. These include, but are not limited to: positive energy; respect; kindness; a strong work ethic; good communication skills; proactive problem-solving; resourcefulness; and excitement around being in a high-performance culture.
With these three fundamental foundations in place for building your team and your culture—grounded in the lessons learned from my CEO client—you’ll build a stronger, more enjoyable and engaging work environment (even if your team is working remotely).
Clear communication, respect, and an open environment that encourages healthy debate will help your business grow faster while avoiding the worst-case scenarios that my client suffered through.