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I don’t know everybody’s name anymore

| Insights

Bo Ilsoe, Partner, NGP Capital

04.10.2019

I am not talking about dementia or memory loss. I am talking about growing your company.

Many founders I have spoken with have told me the same in different words, and it typically happens when the organisation reaches a size of around 100 people.

Up until then founders usually know everybody. They probably have hired most of the people in the organisation. They know their families, their education, their background. Some of them become friends. Past the 100 employee point, it gets harder — and is probably less efficient — to know and hire everybody in the company.



"Past the 100 employee point, it gets harder — and is probably less efficient — to know and hire everybody in the company."

I spoke with a founder the other day — he invites potential hires, and preferably their spouses, home for dinner. He cooks for them. He wants to know what makes them tick. He wants to feel them out as persons, and also as couples. What is the energy? What makes them tick? 

This is the last step before the job offer. There are plenty of people who did not pass his test. In his view it is a question of fit, in both directions, by the way. It is a great way to hire, BUT it is not very scalable unless you have a very large kitchen or you are a very fast cook.

Why does this matter ?

It matters a lot. The founder(s) are, in most cases, also the bearer(s) of the culture and values of the business. They lead by their example, whether they want to or not. Employees always pick up behaviors, mannerisms, even ways of dressing from the founders. It’s human nature. The problem arises when you do not know everyone, you do not hire them all, and you may not see them every day. They may be in another country. Maybe they don’t even speak a language familiar to you.



"The founder(s) are, in most cases, also the bearer(s) of the culture and values of the business." 

At this point, you are forced to articulate your vision, your values, and your company culture. Without that, there is a very big risk that things will go off the rails as you try to scale further. It is even better to do it earlier. Often it is so clear to the founder(s) that they say: “But it is obvious.” Yes, but not to new people in your company, not to stakeholders, customers, investors, or partners. And by the way, you may want to co-create your values and culture with your existing team. 

There is no better way to create buy-in than to have them participate in the creation. Suddenly, you have not 2 or 3 people who get it, but 40, or 50, or however many people are in the company. And here is the thing, your values and your culture will help guide your recruitment. You will develop a language and a way to measure the softer side of an interview against what you are looking for, and so will the managers who will do the hiring. Exactly what these values are, only you and your team will know.

A great friend of mine, Jane Stephens of the Hayhill Group talks about what she calls “Intentional Leadership” as follows :

“Investing in leadership skills — The need for intentional leadership rises once you get to a point where you need to be more systematic and explicit about how you are leading. Not many invest in leadership skills, because they are hard to quantify, so rather they invest in developing skills for specific tasks. When the need to develop leadership rises, it’s often due to a situation where something has already gone wrong. Many things can pull you down in an organization, but by having a clear sense of what your strategic contribution is, it’s easier to not get pulled down. Ask yourself: what would happen to your team if you were not there?

To me it is clear that articulating culture and values is part of Intentional Leadership. Your culture and values are the glue that holds everything together. They are part of the reason why employee candidates want to join your company. They are the guiding light for people when they are in doubt about what to do. This is how you lead a company.



"Your culture and values are the glue that holds everything together." 

You don’t need to develop an elephant’s memory for first names, you need values and a clear intention to lead.

Good luck!