Why you should hire into your weakness

Whether you’re planning a startup, preparing to re-launch or expanding your business, it’s often hard to know which tasks to delegate, which to delay and which to tackle right away.
In my experience, if there is one area in which you should definitely do a lot of the work yourself, it is the hiring process. Your choice of who to hire will make or break you – and this is true no matter how big your company is.

Putting your imprimatur on key management is simply something you have to do. Remember: These are the people to whom you are going to be handing a lot of important decisions, so they’d better be people with whom you feel 100 per cent comfortable!
If you’re reading this and thinking, “But my company is big, and I am way too important to busy myself with something as mundane as hiring staff – that’s what we have a ‘people department’ for, isn’t it?” you should think again.

Get involved
At Virgin, I have always insisted on being involved with senior-level hiring decisions at all of our companies, even if it sometimes means flying the applicants all the way to Necker Island to spend time with me (something about which I have received very few complaints!).

Even at Google – a $400 billion company that is still hiring more than 4,000 people a year – the co-founder and CEO Larry Page insists on being the final arbiter on whether or not to make a job offer to anyone being considered for a leadership role within the company.

I know from personal conversations with Larry that he sees his involvement in the hiring process not as some symbolic role that he has to make time for, but rather as one of the most important aspects of his job.

Additionally, given that Google was incorporated in 1998, I am sure that Larry and his partner, Sergey Brin, vividly recall the fact that the founders of any company must wear many very different hats during an enterprise’s first few crazy years.

When we started up Virgin — a mere 30 years or so before Google’s launch — I handled everything from the secretarial work to (scarily) the company accounts at our first businesses.

Like all young entrepreneurs, the first thing I learned was that you have got to delegate your duties if you want your venture to survive and (ideally) grow. And you should be hiring with an eye to the day that you’re going to delegate even your CEO position and step back from the business’s day-to-day operations so that you can focus on ensuring that your company is prepared for what’s next.

Sara Blakely, the founder of the Spanx clothing company, once told me, “The smartest thing I ever did in the early going was to hire to my weaknesses.” That unusually early level of self-awareness and smarts may be one of the biggest contributing factors that helped Sara to build a billion-dollar business from the ground up in just a dozen or so years.

I think it was due to my dyslexia that I realised very early on in my career that I needed to learn to delegate. I had learned in school that there were some tasks with which I really struggled. For instance, numbers were just not my forte, whether I needed to solve mathematics or accounting problems, so we hired an accountant early on.

As we grew, I still felt that I had the knowledge base needed to involve myself in almost all the major decision-making processes. As soon as Virgin stepped outside the entertainment field, however, that was no longer the case. I quickly discovered this when I unilaterally decided that it was time for us to take the hugely tangential leap into commercial aviation. But that was fine.

We knew that we had to get the right people on board, and the rest is history. It’s important to realise that business is all about people, people, people. Make this your top priority. Surround yourself with people who have the skills, know-how and personality to get the job done, and success is bound to follow.

Mr Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group.

RichardBranson@nytimes.com.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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