Defining Success

One of the hardest things a hiring manager has to do when they are building out product capabilities in their business is actually start the process of recruiting in the first place.  It seems like jumping through a series of endless hoops where you have to get a role signed off, then write a job description, then design your interview process, and then get out into the market to try and find your superstar.  

Because of those hoops, you fall into the trap of rushing everything to open the door to candidates.  You’re not clear how you’ll judge the success of your new recruit, you hastily chuck together a job description and load it with everything you can think of, and then get your interview approach together at the 11th hour when you realise you have some formalities to attend to.  You kinda know what you want, but you’re not entirely sure and you just hope you interview someone with good energy who ticks a few boxes.   

I’ve been there. With all of this.  And you know what, spending a lot of the time really defining what success looks like for a new role is hard yards.  And yet, so imperative.  If you don’t truly know what success looks like, how will you be able to measure if a candidate has the creds to deliver it?  

What I’ve found is the work you do pre-market is a real labour of love.  Sit back and take your time and don’t rush.  It will speed you up in the long run. 

Start with your business case first.  Why do I need this role?  Think less about outputs of the role, those are responsibilities you’ll get to in your job description.  Think more about outcomes.  What are the real results you need to see over a three to six month period?  Is it a percentage uplift in subscription base, or an increase in the cadence of features shipped?  Also think about the regular KPIs and target scores that you’ll measure on a periodic basis, as these are important.  And bingo, that’s your case for ROI demonstrated and all relevant stakeholders on the same page.  You’ve also built out two other things.  1) Outcomes you can measure against your candidate’s experience and skills - is it likely they can deliver it?  And 2) your metrics for the probation period to see if it's working out or not.  Assuming you’re super transparent with your chosen hire about what you need to see, that will get you both aligned about what needs to be achieved in those early months. 

In parallel with your business case, you need to write your job description.  I know, they are a real grind.  But if you’ve worked hard on your business case, you are part way there.  Here’s a rundown:  

  • Start with the mission - what are the goals of the role?  Head back to your outcomes and your answers are there.  Yes, add in some daily duties too but don’t be exhaustive in this list and think critically about the KPIs you mapped out to help you get here.  And then read it back - does it excite you?  If it doesn’t, then it probably won’t excite anyone on the market.  You have to believe this is a great opportunity for the right person, because you are going to be in the market selling it.  Let your writing do some of the heavy lifting for you.
  • Then list out the experience you expect someone to have.  If they need to have overseen a mobile app development team of thirty people across several global offices, then be clear about that.  That’s a hard job, and not for the fainthearted.  
  • Be clear when listing out the mandatory skills too.  Expert level skills in Figma or Jira?  If they are dealbreakers for this role then include them.  Be precise in the language and don’t list excess skills out just for the sake of padding.  
  • And then pause again, do you have your required skills and experience mixed up?  This is a common mistake I see all the time.  A skill is something you do to a certain level, experience is something you have.  Look at your list and make them distinct from each other.    
  • You can also make a separate list of behaviours you think are integral to the success of the role.  Patience, Innovative, Target-Driven, Entrepreneurial etc.  Think hard about the qualities you need to see, don’t just put them on the page for the sake of it.  You should be able to test any one of them in an interview environment.  “How did you hit your targets in the last few years?” or ‘What innovation did you introduce to your company?”  
  • And you’re done.  How does that job description look to you?  Is it a big long list that you lost interest in?  If the answer’s yes, then start editing and bringing that volume down.  Keep it neat, short and essential.  You are selling the dream of your company, so keep going until you say “yes, now that is a job description I am proud of.”              

Now you have your outcomes, KPIs, mandatory experience and skills, and those behaviours you need to see.  You have defined what success looks like and got all the building blocks you need to design your interview process.  It’s up to you, or your corporate team, what format that takes.  But now you’ve spent the time working out what you need to validate against, you might as well use it to help you shortlist your candidates.  Be clear in your mind about what is negotiable, and what is not, and stay true to it.  The rest will fall into place.  

I won’t lie, I struggled for many years in this area, and I spent far too much time interviewing because I wasn't clear on what I wanted.  By learning the hard way, I’m now much more efficient in finding the best possible candidate to work with me.  

If you’re finding yourself stuck in rounds of pointless interviews too, I’d be happy to talk and give you some pointers.  It's why I started Recruitment Coaching.  Your answers will be in your pre-market prep, and I’d love to help you find them.  

What's inspired me recently...

Writing about Defining Success reminded me about conversations I’ve been having recently on accountability, and how you get everyone rowing in the same direction.  I’ve been referencing John Doerr’s Measure What Matters, and how to implement OKRs through your business, focusing everyone on what is most important.  Its packed full of brilliant case studies from brands I admire, and how they’ve achieved greatness by understanding what success will look like - and then systematically writing down the route to get there.  Sounds similar to getting a new role ready for the market right?  

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Glen Duncan

30th April