The greatest challenge for start-ups is hiring the right people into the right positions. Many times, when you have limited people on a team, hiring individuals with broader knowledge and experience who will do anything to get the job done will be far more important than hiring specialists.

As the leader of a start-up or young company, you need people who dance/jive/contort as the organization needs them to—people willing to constantly innovate, willing to roll-up their sleeves, get their hands dirty, and not be set in their ways. Leaders need to hire people they can guide and people who want to grow with the organization.

I was a consultant for a company that had grown according to plan and after three years revenues were at a point where they supported hiring a Business Development Manager (BDM).

The company established some processes and procedures, but as young as it was, the company did not yet have a “we do things a certain way” mentality. Innovation was a constant. Thus, when adding staff, finding the right type of person to fit the culture was an unspoken must. New hires needed to be open-minded, flexible, and comfortable with change or so it seemed.

The person hired for the position came from a long-established, large organization. The hiring executive thought hiring someone with 20 years of industry experience would bring a treasure trove of knowledge and ideas to their young organization. It was assumed this newly-hired BDM would operate independently, allowing others in the company to continue building the brand and executing the marketing plan while he brought in new business.

The problem was that while this new hire was knowledgeable of the industry and had extensive business development experience on paper (with proven results), one vital question was never asked during the hiring process: “How did you achieve your results?”

Within three months of the BDM’s hire, it became obvious that he was accustomed to delegating most activities. In his previous position, he had the luxury of working with specialists and support staff, and had never done many of the administrative functions related to business development. In his new position, it was clear he had neither the desire to “get into the weeds” nor the knowledge to be efficient in many such activities.

His desire to delegate all activities not directly associated with business development, increased the stress levels of a handful of people within the organization to whom he routinely turned for support. As a result, everyone began to see this business development manager as combative and inflexible. He was viewed as someone who complained rather than offered solutions, and as an individual contributor rather than a team player.

All or most of the hiring manager’s assumptions had been incorrect. Signs of “bad hire” who was “not a cultural fit” began to surface.

People began to avoid this manager and work around him. This increased their own challenges for getting things done and lowered efficiency across the company. Resentment set in and the manager became isolated. He no longer got the support he needed to grow new business. A “me-versus-them” mentality began to dominate the company culture.

If you are a leader in a young company, or a company that has major growth as its strategy, hire people who:

  1. Have experience working in start-up or other dynamic environments.
  2. Have “do what it takes to get the job done” attitudes.
  3. Understand how their actions affect others and company goals.
  4. Can work with others in a team environment.
  5. Are more concerned with company goals than they are with adding lines to their resumes.
  6. Are more concerned with upside potential three or four years down the road than they are with their current compensation levels.
  7. Are independent decision-makers who can prioritize their activities.
  8. Never blame others for failures and are able to learn from their mistakes.
  9. Are willing to take on new challenges and new ways of doing things.
  10. Have expectations of the position that are reasonable and that align with your own.


Progressive Management Associates is a different kind of consulting firm especially suited to those who think they cannot afford everything a consultant has to offer. Reach Stuart Friedman via email: stuart@pma-co.com