It’s a story aspiring entrepreneurs hear often: employers highlight the success their company has found through through a pinch of luck, a market need, and a clever strategy. But behind the glamour, the challenges of running a business can feel crushing — something entrepreneurs don’t always talk about in the spotlight.
As Bob Parsons, the founder of GoDaddy put it, “The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed.” Both PivotDesk and Justworks help entrepreneurs free themselves from those challenges and simplify running their business.
And so, this Fearless Confessions series was born. Together, PivotDesk and Justworks will help entrepreneurs tackle the more difficult aspects of leading a business through insight, ideas, and inspiration.
To kick off the series, Justworks interviewed their CEO, Isaac Oates, on building a long-lasting company culture. The discussion focused particularly on hiring and — one of an entrepreneur’s most difficult tasks — firing employees.
Q: Being picky for a position you need filled can be hard when your company is growing rapidly. Should you delay hiring if it’s not 100% the right person? What are the benefits and drawbacks of that?
You should always make sure you’re hiring the right person and the one that you are excited about. A lot of times, it takes longer to find the right person than you wish it would. It always takes longer because the right person showing up “too soon” almost never pans out.
Sometimes you find people who can do the thing you need, but you don’t think they’ll be a good long-term hire. If they can consult for you on a project, that can be great for both the company and the candidate. But if that’s not possible, I’ve never seen a situation where not waiting was actually better. The ramifications over the long term of having the wrong person in the company are severe for the person as well as the company.
Q: What practices have you put in place to keep a high standard for new hires during periods of rapid growth?
I still interview everybody, though that won’t last forever. More importantly, we have interview training that every new employee goes through. We fly Ben Gotkin [from Recruiting Toolbox] out from Seattle and he gives a six-hour class. I think that training has helped employees become better interviewers. Interviewing is a specific and important skill.
Having a team debrief is also valuable. It gives you a chance to talk in a really open way about what is working and not working for people you’re hiring. It is a great learning opportunity.
The quality of a candidate that makes it through our process is incredible. I’m sure we miss lots of great people but that’s better than the alternative.
Q: You personally interview every Justworks employee before he or she starts. Can you talk about your methodology and reasoning behind that?
My goal when I’m talking with people is to figure out how excited I am to work with them coming out of the interview.
I’m really trying to get the person to talk about themselves and their background. I’m interested in what they’ve done in school, at work, and in life. From there, I decide if this is a person who will make Justworks a better company. There is a huge intuitive part of it and I think that’s fine. Different people in my position would be drawn to different candidates. The point is that our team shares common values and behavioral norms.
Q: In your opinion, what is the most important trait a new hire must have to succeed in a startup environment?
Resourcefulness. The ability to figure out what needs to happen and then make it happen with relatively little structure and few resources.
Q: As it goes in business, not all employees stay. What steps do you take as the leader of a company to keep a healthy retention rate?
I work hard to make the company a place where I think people would want to work. The biggest part of that is how we communicate. We do our best to communicate transparently and let everyone who’s here know what is going on.
Q: Letting go of employees is a difficult part of any business. How did you feel when you had to let your first hire go, and what lessons did you learn from that experience?
Pretty shitty. Especially in the beginning. You’re selling the dream and convincing people that they should leave their job and whatever else they have going on to take a chance on you and your company. So to come back and say this is not working, especially if the person is giving it everything they have, is really hard. It feels like betrayal.
So far as my advice: be direct. Once you’ve made the decision to let someone go, being fast and direct about it is the single best thing you can do.
Q: Sometimes it’s not clear whether an employee should be let go or not. What are your deal breakers when you’re weighing such a decision?
If someone has ever violated my trust or behaved in a way that is obviously incongruent with our company’s values, those would be deal breakers. This doesn’t happen much, but when it does, it’s the easiest decision in the world. In fact, you don’t have a choice: They’ve already made the decision for you.
Q: What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who want to build a long-lasting culture for their company?
Start building internal communication channels early. For us, the all-hands meeting is important. Building a rhythm around that stuff early on has created a framework that keeps people on the same page, even as we’ve grown. There are companies that don’t prioritize communication as early on. They’ll have an all hands once a quarter and down the road they want to add it in — it’s a lot harder.
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