Hiring Isn’t Your Company’s Gas: It’s Your Steering Wheel

If you’re hiring new employees based on the kind of company you are right now rather than what you want it to be in the future, you’re putting the cart before the horse.

Over the years at Wistia, I’ve found that hiring is one of the most effective tools to guide the direction of your business’s growth. If you want your business to become something different, it might be as simple as hiring a new kind of employee — and, if you’re unhappy with what your business is becoming, you might have had the wrong hiring focus.

Most people use hiring to accelerate growth, like a car’s gas pedal. But you might find more success if you use hiring to point your company in a new direction, like a steering wheel.

We need to stop thinking of hiring as a gas pedal for accelerating a company’s growth and start thinking of it as the steering wheel for directing that growth. Here’s how you can use it to turn your company in a new direction.

A single hire can change your company’s trajectory

We talk about the importance of a culture that listens to employees and provides help when they ask for it. But it’s easy in practice to write this off as a kind of triage: when new employees struggle, you give them enough help to get them up and running, and then eventually they’re autonomous.

That’s a superficial way of answering requests for help. Ask yourself the deeper question: Why are employees asking for help? When you do that, you can start to see how the mere act of hiring can steer your company in a totally new direction.

Say you stumble upon a company that has a big video production team and does most of its marketing through high-quality videos. If I asked you how that company came to be so focused on video, you’d probably say that the product is just the kind of thing that’s best marketed through video— so, the company gradually hired more video producers.

Don’t be so sure.

My bet would be that this company just hired one video producer early on who ended up asking for help.

What does a newly hired video producer do at a company? She starts working on how to make great videos — and, if she’s a proactive employee, she’ll ask her co-workers for help in making those videos succeed. Especially at a young company, a single employee asking for support for her job can drastically impact the trajectory of the business over time.

As the video producer gets more support, the company starts making more videos, and the overall business will gradually gear towards a more video-oriented approach to its public image. A video producer asking for help early on can change your entire business model.

Once you see hiring as a tool for steering the direction of your business’s growth, you can start using it to fine-tune your company instead of just expanding the reach of your status quo.

This technique has helped us course-correct at Wistia more than once over the years. In our early years, we didn’t do much in terms of marketing. Eventually, we decided that our company needed more of an explicit focus on marketing — so we hired a full-time marketer. That person started asking for help on everything to do with marketing and that pulled us into an increasingly serious focus on marketing over time.

We didn’t always think of ourselves as the kind of company that would advertise using a billboard-on-wheels. Then we hired a full-time marketer.

We’re doing something similar now. We want Wistia to focus more on matters of high-level, long-term strategy. Rather than trying to accomplish this just by reshuffling the existing people at the company, we’re bringing on a new VP to focus on high-level strategy. As this VP asks for help doing their job, the company will naturally be pulled towards this new focus.

If you’re looking to shape your company’s future direction, the most helpful employee could be the new employee who’s eager to ask for help — provided you’re ready and willing to listen to them.

Build a culture of team empowerment

There’s one huge qualifier to this perspective on hiring: it only works if you’ve built a company culture that encourages and responds to employees asking for help.

If your employees keep their heads down and aren’t willing to ask others to give them a hand, they might do the best they can with their job, but they don’t command the company’s focus on the success of their specific department.

Make it the norm for employees to share where they need help and how they can be of help to others. Take time regularly to call out and celebrate successful collaborations between teammates. Even a simple “moment of gratitude” at your all-hands meeting can do wonders for this: every week, give someone an opportunity to thank someone else for helping them with their job in some way over the past week.

If you show your team from Day 1 that you’re serious about support and collaboration, cross-functional help will become part of your company’s DNA. And once hires are ready and willing to seek out the help they need, they’ll be able to steer your company towards totally new horizons.

Like what you’ve heard about Wistia? We’re looking to steer ourselves with some new hires right now!

Hiring Isn’t Your Company’s Gas: It’s Your Steering Wheel was originally published in Savage Thoughts on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.