A company isn’t created with a great culture; it needs to be instilled and emphasized from the beginning. Founders need to commit to creating a specific environment in the early stages, when there are no barriers in place and nothing is holding them back from building the exact culture they envision for the company.
The next phase is really important – hire people who believe in the values you instilled and are authentic in how they live them every day. This is the rule our founders followed, and although we’ve stumbled a few times along the way, it’s serving us well and is a big reason we’ve built such an incredible team today.
You might not immediately envision a company’s chief financial officer taking such an interest in company culture. Of course, there are plans to put in place, targets to meet, deals to close, rounds of funding to raise and board members to manage. That’s par for the course, but to me, if you focus on the people first, the numbers will follow.
I’ve also realized that working at a company where business is the only priority isn’t a place I can really believe in or a place where I’ll find my passion.
There has to be a process in place to ensure your team is the best of the best – not only in what they’ve accomplished, but in who they are as people. To keep the best people, not just applicants, coming in the door, we came up with a system measured by what we call “Buckets.”
Buckets 1 and 2, specifically.
- Bucket 1 encapsulates someone’s work experience, education, skill sets and professional accomplishments. This comprises the tactical aspects that make someone a good fit for a role. Clearly, you have to have Bucket 1 people to be successful.
- Bucket 2 is the DNA that makes someone who they are, such as humility, ambition, ethics; it’s their way of interacting with the world. Bucket 2 is the stuff your parents taught you and what you’re trying to teach your children, and if you are a parent, you know how difficult this can be. It’s the things that cannot be easily taught if they aren’t instilled in who they are and what they believe.
Bucket 2 people are the people you have to hire!
Why should you make such a big deal of hiring people with Bucket 2?
Because at the end of the day, those are the people you can trust and truly empower. Things move fast and decisions need to be made at lightning speed, especially at a start-up. If we hesitate, we could miss a major product update, partner deal or interest from investors to keep the company on a fast track for growth. To scale, you have to have surround yourself with people you can truly trust and empower, so you can get out of the way.
Secondly, Bucket 2 really matters in a fast growing company because you want trustworthy people making those snap decisions. You already know they’re smart, but would they choose the high road in a pinch? Would they put the team and company ahead of themselves? Would they check their ego at the door and change course for the right reasons? Bucket 2 people do almost every single time.
Evaluating the person, not just their past
This system is important because it makes company culture personal. You want to work with people you care about, people you consider your friends. If we expect people to rally around each other, celebrate each others’ success, pick each other up when they’re down, we know that people with high Bucket 2 will just do that naturally without having been told to do it.
If we surround ourselves with those people and reward them for those types of values, it will be an everyday thing. It will feel personal because it’s genuine and authentic.
I’ve been hiring people around Bucket 2 for a long time. I just didn’t always have a name for it. I want to know my team’s beliefs and emphasize their self ahead of what they’ve done.
When you look back at the start of a company, it’s easy to get enamored with a potential employee with a great Bucket 1. But if they don’t have Bucket 2, it won’t work in the culture you’re creating and won’t help create alignment in your business. Don’t forget about Bucket 2, and do not bring on someone who doesn’t have both.
After all, a team, culture and a company are all built on a foundation of trust. Trust is so hard to earn and so easy to lose. Think about it: who are the people you trust? I believe you trust people with high Bucket 2.
I’ve followed this thinking my entire career and still do at my current company. How do you put it into action? There’s a few ways to help get you there:
- Start with a leadership team that lives and breathes this philosophy everyday. Have your leadership team aligned on how you’ll accomplish it and it’ll fall into place naturally.
- Use your recruiting team as your first line of defense. Recruiting teams and hiring managers should be trained and armed with interview questions that drill down into Bucket 2 issues.
- Talk about this philosophy openly. If you see a Bucket 2 issue on your team, talk to leadership about the issue and frame it that way. It’s everyone’s responsibility to keep up company culture and to fight like hell to protect it.
- Finally, close the accountability circle by measuring and holding your leaders the most accountable around Bucket 2.
Go with your instinct to hire Bucket 2 people, and believe in them.
Your company’s potential will be unlocked and there’s no ceiling for how high you can go.
* Robert Alvarez is CFO and COO of Bigcommerce, the ecommerce platform for 60,000+ fast growing brands.
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