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“In defence of inaction: Why it’s usually best to do nothing”, a recent piece by Ogilvy’s Rory Sutherland, points out that, in business (and any other applicable walk of life), you are going to get blamed and/or sued anyway, so best to do something, rather than be accused of having done nothing.
This got me thinking. It is very easy to over-act as a young, inexperienced founder. You’ve got no experience, you’ve never built and scaled a company, you’ve never managed others. It’s leap of faith after leap of faith. You know people are being patient, but are also relying on you. And you act, usually guessing, hoping that will make you look less incompetent.
But what if that’s the wrong tact? I wanted to write a few lines on hiring, because, particularly in SaaS startups, it is really hard to gauge when to act, and when not to. Here are three thoughts.
First, work out where you need to lead, and where you just need to be led. Another way of putting this is: know your own area of competence – where it affords you time, and where it limits you.
For instance, I’m a product person, so I waited until the eleventh hour to hire a head of product. Initially, when I couldn’t build any more myself, I got people in under me. And when I had to focus on other parts of the business, I hired someone to lead them. At that point, I went from telling people what to do 99 percent of the time, to being told what to do – by someone who had done this before – 99 percent of the time.
You should expect the leading/being led distinction (read: action/inaction) to flip as you scale. Even if you have become a consummate manager over the years, still hire in better. The areas of the business you are closest to and care about the most are the ones where you need to hire someone who trumps you.
Second, accept the limitations of a team who are in the biggest job of their lives. There is a startup tendency to hire (because they are full of ambition and/or cheap) people who hold more potential and enthusiasm than experience.
That’s fine, but expect these individuals to be biased towards action. If most of your leadership team comprises them, you’ll likely get a higher instance of stabs in the dark. Thus, there is great value to having people who have already been in a situation, making decisions, as opposed to merely being adjacent to one.
Third, you will often have people who are incredibly good and proficient at what they do but all their energy is being channeled in the wrong direction. These individuals know when to act and when not to act, but that distinction is futile (even dangerous) if they are doing so in regard to the wrong things.
There tends to be a rubicon for these hires: if they are five to six years into their career, you can act and redirect them. They will likely be fantastic. If they are further on than that, the ability to change and adapt becomes harder. Drive does not necessarily correlate with a lack of inertia. And, unfortunately, the more time someone spends getting good at the wrong thing, the harder that is to correct.
As a founder, you are going to make a lot of stupid decisions. As a leader, you will learn how to temper and improve these. But always remember to take a step back: ask yourself, is doing something really better than doing nothing?
May 17, 2019 at 01:56AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs