There are a couple of exercises you just have to do when you go to hire your first VPs.  Because the cost of a mis-hire is so high.  It’s not just the money, and the recruiting fee.  It’s all the lost time.  And the wrong hires that VP will make.  A bad VP will set you 6-15 months back.  You can’t afford that.

The best exercise is to have them do a 60-day plan.  At least, as a penultimate step before they start.  This helps make sure the new VP and you are on the same page on priorities and goals.  More on that here:

Before You Start as a VP — Please, Please, Please. Do a 60-Day Plan. And Make Sure the CEO Agrees With It.

As part of that, usually, you’ll get a priority list.  Not always, though.

So if you do the 60-day plan and don’t get a prioritized list, or just want to ask the candidate to do something less burdensome than a full 60-day plan (at least at first), ask her or him to make a list of what they’d do when they start.

A priority list isn’t quite as useful as a 60-day plan, but it’s much simpler to put together.  And often close to as telling.

A basic list, in a Google Doc or whatever form.

This list of priorities will be profoundly useful to you.

  • First, anything they don’t put on the list, they don’t know how to do or don’t value.  That may be OK.  But at least you know upfront.
  • Second, even if they don’t realize it, they are always force-ranking the list.  Almost everyone puts their top priorities at the top of the list.  Not always, but almost always.
  • Third, any VP will really only end up doing and improving 3-4 top things in the end.  So this list can help surface those 3-4 things.  Usually, at the top of the list.  And ask the candidate, when she gives you a list of 30-40 things she wants to do as your new VP, which are the Top 3-4.  That’s all she’ll really do.

And that may be OK.  But you’ll need to give up on getting the items on the list from 5-50 for now, or backfill it with other hires, or at least have those initiatives done with less commitment.

Asking a VP candidate to put together a simple priority list isn’t a big ask, at least for a 2nd or 3d meeting It’s a great vehicle to use for a second interview.  And you’ll quickly see what they really value.  What they think they are good at.  And what, realistically, they won’t get to.

(note: an updated SaaStr Classic post)

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