Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

I sat down with an active client this week, a rapidly scaling marketing-tech company focused in brand-side optimization, attribution, and analytics. I have a long history with the CEO and already this year I’ve placed their Chief Data Officer and SVP Client Success. This is a company that was once focused in media and now is an enterprise software solution. The pivot in business model to SaaS required some obvious changes in personnel and he was curious if bad commentary on was something I put a lot of stock into when evaluating the quality of a company (I don’t btw). This client wants to attract great talent at all levels so I appreciated the question and concern. He then asked a simple yet provocative question which I also appreciated: “what can we do to make our company more attractive to true A-players at all levels?” This is a great question every thoughtful CEO should be asking. Having placed 250+ executives over the past decade, I have some thoughts on this subject from a culture building perspective:

  • Don’t bullshit. Vision for the future is inspiring and current successes are clearly worth talking about, but don’t brush over the challenges. Nothing is more frustrating to an A-player then being misled about the health of the business, their scope of responsibility, the viability of earning bonus outside of salary, cultural challenges, ops/product/delivery issues, etc. In fact, the most sought after professionals and leaders are typically in pursuit of a challenge and expect problems needing to be resolved, that is part of their interest. If you sell someone a bag of goods to get them in the door, they’ll just as swiftly walk back through it to go elsewhere. And they’ll tell anyone who asks why they left.
  •  Empower people. Employees talk – they talk to other employees and they talk to their industry colleagues and they talk with their non-industry friends about what they do and where they work. This gets around. If you want a great reputation for your company it’s essential that employees at all levels be given clear expectations, but with room to make decisions, some of which will be engrained learning experiences disguised as “mistakes”. Mistakes are good! No, I’m not saying an Account Manager two years out of school should make a major P&L decision, but don’t box them in too much within their own influence and position scope. They don’t want to work on an assembly line devoid of strategic and creative thinking so allow them reasonable freedom. Probably most important – this empowerment principal begins (or ends) at the top.
  •  PTO, see #2 above. Many internet and other tech companies have adopted “unlimited paid time off” for their employees. Yes, you can do the standard 2 weeks first year of employment, 3 weeks the second year, etc., but there is something empowering when the employer entrusts the employee to get their job done without restrictions. Liberate your people and you’ll ironically find this benefit will drive MORE time dedicated to your company. Clearly if someone doesn’t do a good job and still takes a lot of time off, this is easy to remedy – fire them for performance.
  • Fire people. This may sound harsh, but it's not. Consider this scenario: there are 5 people on a team and 4 of them are carrying their weight while 1 is a weak link, or worse an apathetic link. The team delivers a quality result despite the fact that the weak link contributed very little to that result. The workers don’t appreciate that the slacker gets the same recognition for the result. The team could be in sales, product, marketing, ops, tech, etc., it’s applicable across all functions. And in the executive room, it’s equally obvious when a senior leader doesn’t consistently possess the competence and/or will the other department heads are bringing forth. When the CEO/manager of the dead weight fails to see it or remedy it, the contributors lose respect for that CEO/manager. It's been said that “eagles fly with eagles and moles burrow with moles”. To be respected, a proper leader has to have the ability to let their moles go if they want to keep the eagles flying.
  •  No jerks (see "fire people" above).  Yeah, maybe you can deal with a prima donna salesperson at 200% to plan every quarter if they work remotely, but in nearly all other scenarios it’s usually not worth it to have jerks at your company.  You know that guy who makes inappropriate jokes only he finds funny or the yeller who believes everyone works for her and seemingly goes out of her way to be rude.  Root this out in all interview processes regardless of position level, really dig into reference checks and validate people value him/her at their previous employers. Results are critical, but it’s tough to obtain great results without some respectful internal civility if not harmony.  Maybe this one should go without saying, but just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s always put into practice.  And if you, the CEO, are the jerk then you’re going to have perpetual attrition problems.

Many other ideas, methods, and practices are employed at a number of quality companies. What are some of the favorite elements or perks you appreciate at your company?