Finding the Right Players and Dealing with Role Dilemmas That Pop Up

Buttercream wedding cake with Fresh Flowers

When is the last time you decided to reach out and speak to someone in an elevator, on the subway, while sitting on a park bench, on an airplane or at the grocery store?  Why not?   Are you fearful they will think you are crazy, are you too focused on the cellphone or tablet, are you lacking time for a five-minute conversation, or do you think, what could a stranger offer me? My friends, if you are on an entrepreneurial quest, then you have missed an opportunity to find someone for your team now or in the future.

In How to Hire A Players, Herrenkohl, suggests that first you need to know the fundamental skills you want and the skills you can and cannot teach. (Herrenkohl) After the skills are defined it is the founder’s responsibility to look far and wide for the best people for these positions.  The internet is not what he is talking about.  Herrenkohl has numerous ideas for looking for people with the right attitude and the potential to become A players if properly developed.  For example, do you need to find a salesperson that has your particular product experience?  Not necessarily, what about a person who has restaurant service experience providing guest service all day long while trying to increase their wages by upselling items? Do you need to have a legal team from the best firms in your town?  Perhaps not, there are a number of excellent lawyers working at small firms who might want the opportunity to be part of a startup?  How about partnering with a university or high school to create “internship opportunities” or “work/study” programs — this might ensure a steady stream of students for the business.  What about women who left careers to have children but would like to return to the work force either part time or full time — how can you accommodate their skill sets with your needs?  These are just a few of Herrenkohls suggestions. For some of us it is easy to talk to a stranger and create a connection that may lead to that person being on our team.

Now let’s look at what happens once the team is formed.

You have the idea, you have some financial resources, you even have recruited the initial team for the startup.  Ready Set Go–not exactly. As previously discussed, having the right A players in the startup is crucial, but the at the beginning there are more decisions that need to be made in regards to role expectations and titles.  If you think hiring the initial team was difficult, setting expectations and titles can also be problematic.

Starting with the assignment of titles, it sounds easy.  The CEO title will go to the founder because he or she had the idea.  Sounds right, but what if there are two or more co-founders? What about the co-founder who brings in the capital?  What if one of the co- founders does not want the title?  Should the CEO, COO, CTO, and CFO titles be assigned at the beginning?  How about no titles to begin with and as the startup develops, assign titles?  Jeff Bussgang, a General Partner at Flybridge Capital Partners, suggests that because a startup is so fluid with roles and responsibilities changing and reporting structures moving, there should be no titles in the beginning. (Bussgang)

According to Wasserman in The Founder’s Dilemma , C titles do matter, even if the founder or co-founders do not think so. The title of CEO is symbolic and those outside the company place great significance on the title. (Wasserman) In his research of technology and life science companies, 89% of multiple founder teams had at least one founder with a C title.  How are these titles acquired?  Wasserman suggests there are three major factors when assigning titles:  founder’s level of commitment, the founder with the idea or intellectual property, and founder’s human, social and financial capital.  His research showed that the majority of CEO titles were given to the idea person over the non-idea person. Previous founding experience and bringing capital to the startup are two of the other main factors that lead to a founder being named CEO. (Wasserman).

The title of CEO has been given out and perhaps some other C titles too – -ready, set, go, not yet. Even with those titles there are two key concepts that will help the success of the company if discussed before the work starts: (1) the roles (titles) and division of labor and (2) how decisions will be made.

When I think about starting my own business, I will have to decide if I am going to have a strict division of labor or will there be overlapping of roles.  At the beginning of many startups there is a lot of overlapping of roles because of fewer people and less cash.  There are advantages and disadvantages to the overlap; the advantages include flexibility for startups, employees help where needed, and all knowledge is welcomed. Some disadvantages are that tension can arise between cofounders, as startups grow employees experience tension as specific functions are expected, and diffused responsibility weakens incentives (Wasserman)  The division of labor also has advantages and disadvantages; as to the former, immediately tasks, titles and responsibilities can be assigned, there is more accountability, and roles are assigned based on the founder’s strengths. Some of the disadvantages are that collaboration may be difficult, role assignments may not be correct, and organization structure does not meet the work demands. (Wasserman)   It is easy to see why many startups begin with overlapping roles, but with the growth of the company it will be necessary down the road to put in some structure.  The structure does not have to take away collaboration if a culture of inclusion has already been built by the founder. One thing to remember is that the team is only as strong as the weakest link.  I know that my skills lie in baking and running a kitchen with some financial background. For me it would be beneficial to bring in either a chef or operations manager that has more financial experience than me.  I do not believe it would diminish my role, more likely it would increase my knowledge of that side of the business and keep the business viable

Wasserman states that there are two ways to approach decision making: egalitarian vs hierarchical.  (Wasserman) Think of the egalitarian approach as no one is in charge, decisions are made collectively — the consensus approach.  Think of the hierarchical approach as autocratic, a more formal line of decision making with one person having final approval or veto power. Both of these approaches have advantages and disadvantages within a startup.  The egalitarian approach seems to work better in tech startups because of similar backgrounds and the collaboration of the players.  The double edged sword is that decisions take longer to make in order to build consensus, yet better decisions tend to be made.  In the hierarchical approach decisions can be made faster, but sometimes with only one person making that final decision it may not turn out to be the best decision in the future.

Whichever decision making approach is chosen it is important that it must be lined up with the founders’ abilities and preferences and the startup’s needs. (Wasserman) Remember when wealth vs control motivations for founders were discussed?  The motivations of wealth and control will also affect the startup’s success.  The control motivated will not yield decisions that are necessarily based on the growth of the startup whereas the wealth motivated will yield decisions that create the most growth for the startup.  The decision making approach for the management team is crucial at the beginning of a startup.  If this area is ignored, there can be conflict and tension within the team down the road.

Idea in place, financial resources in place, team is hired, decision making styles discussed, roles and division of labor discussed.

NOW Ready-Set-Go and don’t forget to take the opportunity to talk to that stranger as he or she might just turn into your next A player.

Resources and Links:

Herrenkohl, Eric How To Hire A-Players. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2010

Wasserman, Noam The Founder’s Dilemmas. New Jersey: Princeton UP, 2012.

“Launching a Start-Up? Do it without titles.” 2015

Web. 20 Jul. 2015

“Whom Should You Hire at a Startup? (Attitude over Aptitude).” 2011

Web. 17 Mar. 2011

“How to Preserve a Startup Culture as a Company Grows.” 2015

Web. 11 Mar. 2015

“Ditching Flat: How Structure Helped Us Move Faster.” 2015

Web. 15 Oct. 2015


2 thoughts on “Finding the Right Players and Dealing with Role Dilemmas That Pop Up

  1. Cece,

    That first paragraph really hit me hard. We truly do stand the chance of never meeting that right member of our team when we don’t take the time to talk to the people around us. It is so simple, and it would allow us to meet so many people – yet I find myself rarely doing it. It’s a lot easier for me to communicate with people online, so communicating better off-line is something that I need to address. Or really, the “courage” to start the conversation. Once I get going, I’m fine.

    Your article was very nice and informative. Well done!

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