The biggest mistake you are probably going to make in your first year or two is hiring B or even C players for key director and VP positions.  And these mistake(s) will set you back many, many months.

The time and money lost investing in a key individual who simply doesn’t deliver in a critical position is so expensive, in both soft and hard costs.  Your releases will slip behind.  Hard-won leads won’t close.  Very limited, expensive marketing dollars will be spent in the wrong places.  Etc. etc.

As a first-time manager, you really won’t have the experience to know really who is an A, B, or C player for any position you haven’t held yourself. It’s hard to judge if you haven’t done it before and/or if you are a first-time hiring manager. How do you really know who is a decent director of product management when you’ve never even worked with one, for example?

But there is an easy hack / fix: get an advisor / mentor who has done it before — and well — to interview your final candidates. She or he will know. Ignore their advice if you want, but it likely will be accurate. If your top mentor has hired and managed As and Bs in this position … they will almost immediately know in 1 interview if a candidate is as good or better, time adjusted, than other As they’ve hired.

This is how I hired my first CTO and VP of Engineering. I hadn’t made those hires before. But I had the best VP of Engineering I know interview the candidates, too. He was exactly right in every single case.  Not just in the IQ test part of it, but in his ability to see the future.  Where those candidates would scale, where they would stumble, and if they were right for our stage.

I did the same with my first inside sales reps. Etc. etc.

And I did the same with my first VP of Sales hire. Here, under the pressure of time, I ignored the advice. I shouldn’t have. Then, by the time it came to hire my second VP of Sales … I knew. Only then, really.  That hire I made in 60 seconds.  Then I finally knew.  After making the hire once, and interviewing 30+ others.

And second, one thing is clear: you’ll know 90 days in. Even if you aren’t sure if someone was an A, B, or C when you first make the hire — you’ll know in the first 90 days. Probably even the first 45.

The As:

  • (x) step up and own more than they are told to own; and
  • (y) get more of these things done that others don’t; and
  • (z) attract the top talent to work with them.

You’ll see this with crystal clarity in the first 45-60 days.  90 max.  Everyone else is a B or C.

I don’t like the idea of “fire fast”.  It somehow suggests employees are fungible, and that hiring is easy.  Neither is true.  But if you hire the wrong VP or Director, you will know in 90 days.  Even if you haven’t made the hire before.  Ask your top mentor and advisor if you are right here, too.  But you’ll know.  Make a change by Day 91.

(note: an updated SaaStr Classic post)

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