Questions

I'm the CEO of a small but extremely fast-growing startup, and here lately I've noticed something that troubles me: The majority of my employees are fairly thoughtless. I'm not saying they're stupid. I'm not saying they are lazy. Neither is true. If they have a clearly defined process, and they've been trained on how to handle it, they can execute with precision and excellence. They'll also do everything in their power to do a good job. But it's a start up. Almost none of our processes are defined. We are also growing so quickly that I don't have time to train everyone. What I really want is to give someone an objective or a problem, and they take all of the data and complexity and compose an elegant solution. I want them to think, problem solve, and be creative. But that's not happening. Pretty much every employee is coming to me with every problem and asking me to think through it and tell them what to do. I've tried asking questions and providing gentle guidance instead of telling them what to do, but they act like I'm punishing them. They sulk and tinker with the problem halfheartedly until I tell them what to do. Part of the problem is me, I think. I have trained them to let me think for them. Whenever they develop a solution, I also have a tendency to very calmly and nicely rip it apart and rebuild something better in front of them. But I also wonder if I'm hiring the wrong people. This is horribly politically incorrect, but sometimes they remind me of a bunch of kids with down syndrome working together to build a sandcastle. They are happy and motivated and hard-working, and they might even create something at least somewhat resembling a sandcastle, but at the end of the day, nobody is going to care when the waves wash it away. Instead, I feel like I need architects, people with such stunning insight and intelligence they can construct a sandcastle like the world has never seen. People will weep when the waves wash it away. But where do I find those people? And how do I convince them to work for me?

Like many startups I've seen, little (if any) time or energy is devoted to first designing your culture. Yes, culture can be designed. As opposed to 'inherited by default' which is what has happened in your situation. Likely as a result of focusing too much on skills, and not enough on fit. But 'fit' means different things to different people, which is why identifying and defining fit is part of designing your culture upfront.

Unless you have a clear idea of who fits your company – and that includes understanding who they are, what motivates them, how they think, how they feel, and how they behave – you'll end up with individuals who may be skilled at what they do, but will always be just a 'group of employees', and never a true team.

Take the time to define your company mission, its vision, and the core values everyone must live by. These form the nucleus of your cultural DNA, and from there, create a more effective talent attraction and hiring process that includes specific activities that will help you to filter out those personality types that are currently driving you nuts.
For example, if people constantly come to you looking for solutions rather than solving their own problems, your interview process must include questions that will help you to identify self-starters. At the same time, your leadership style should adopt more of a coaching model – this will encourage your employees to think through and uncover answers on their own. It can be very empowering for them, and free up your time as well.

Happy to jump on a call with you to talk more specifics about this. It sounds like a situation that's best rectified asap.


Answered 5 years ago

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