There’s an old business saying that if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. This is especially true for business leaders and managers trying to grow a company.
It may be a wonderful ego stroke to be the smartest, most capable, most accomplished person at your company, it also means you’re not going to get a lot of your core work done. Instead, you’re going to be teaching people how to do their jobs, fixing their mistakes, and putting out fires.
For Mike Volpe, former CMO of HubSpot, having the right people around you makes your job so much easier. I had a chance to talk to Mike during a panel discuss at OpenView’s Marketing Forum and he shared his philosophy for leadership and management success.
“If you have the right people in the room, it makes your job so much easier,” Volpe said.
“I will tell you almost every problem I encountered was usually because something was wrong with the people side of things. Occasionally it would be a process that broke as we scaled, but the process stuff is much easier to fix than the people stuff.”
As HubSpot grew — as any company grows, really — things were different when they started. In the early days, it was about a small team finding product market fit, and then a go to market model that worked. But then Volpe’s focus changed.
“Once you hit that stride, you’ve got product market fit and an early go to market model,” Volpe said. “You’ve gotten to a certain scale, now you need to make this thing 10 times bigger. That’s when it really becomes all about the people, probably two years in. From there on, it was almost all about the people.”
For Volpe, that means having a team of people who bring their A-game every day, and trusting them to do the work. So how do you find these people? How do you spot the top players and get them to your company at exactly the right time?
The secret, says Volpe, is to “always be recruiting.” This was his approach to hiring the best marketing talent he could find.
He said, “(At) an event like this (panel discussion), every single person I meet, in the back of my head is this little process running, ‘I wonder if they’d be good for me to hire.’ I would keep a list. I had a list of people I met or had heard of or talked to that were potentially A players.”
Volpe and his marketing team kept that list, and then would put on special invite-only events for the people on it. They treated the events as a secret screening.
“We had one event where we said, ‘I need more leadership on the team.’ So we held a little panel…on how to become a CMO in the next five years. Guess who’s going to attend? The exact perfect people you want to hire.”
“We had 30 people come, and I had the managers from the marketing team come and chat with them all, and write notes about them after the event. We had this whole stealth recruiting database that we started to build out.”
Volpe says that some of the people on the list were ones they nurtured and kept in touch with for a year or two, and made them an offer when the time was right. Volpe said, “There’s one person I tried to hire three times over a course of four years. Finally, the third time, it actually happened.”
“Ultimately,” says Volpe, “Recruiting and hiring will be one of the most important things you can do to grow your company.” He says if there was one activity he spent most of his time on, it was recruiting. And true to HubSpot’s model, it was still all about the funnel.
Volpe says he focused on “my top of the funnel, getting more people just to hear about the company, speaking at events, running events, inviting people to events, and then for the middle of the funnel I worked with a dedicated marketing recruiter from our recruiting team on a regular basis.”
Bottom line: You never know where your next superstar is going to come from, so always be in search mode, silently evaluating everyone you meet as to whether they might be a good fit for you. Look for the people who are smarter and more skilled than you. That’s the only way you truly have a shot at success — manage the best and brightest people you can find, and turn them loose to do their best work.