Leadership in Small Companies vs. Big Companies – Hiring for Passion

Earlier this week I was presenting in front of a group of successful entrepreneurs, each of whom had built a business from scratch and turned it into a $10m+ company.  As they talked about their businesses you could see the passion for their company oozing out of their pores.  They had “made it” by almost every definition of the word but you could tell that their entrepreneurial spirit hadn’t waned.  Their success had afforded them more control over their time but they certainly weren’t resting on their laurels.  They were passionate about growing their businesses.  This post is my first in a series on Leadership in Small Companies vs. Big Companies and covers how small companies can be more focused on hiring for passion.

Several times during our discussion the conversation circled around hiring passionate employees who were risk takers.  Several had noted that when you’re a small company, you have the ability to screen most or all new hire candidates making sure that they are a good fit.  You were hiring for a skill but fit was just as important and a good fit meant having a passion for the business.  This didn’t mean that these CEO didn’t make bad hires too.  One had mentioned how he kept the business cards of all of his regrettable hires that he had fired.  He would add each card to the others which were strung onto a necklace.  Supposedly the necklace was getting pretty full.  I thought about how much attention they put into who they hired and how that scenario changes as an organization grows.  Do big companies worry more about skill or fit?  Do hiring managers who are not personally passionate about the company look for passion or fit when they are reviewing candidates?


Passionate Employees

Almost a decade ago I had moved back to Minnesota from the East Coast.  While I commuted back and forth I was trying to find a local company that would be the best fit for me.  I eventually focused my search on my favorite consumer electronics retailer, Best Buy (@BestBuy / $BBY).  I had several friends that worked for the company and they spoke highly of the entrepreneurial spirit, the smart people and the boundless opportunities.  It sounded like a perfect fit for me.  I figured that if I could put my passion around electronics into my employment how could it get any better than that?

I had been a computer geek since high school and eventually bought my first PC from Best Buy in the early 1990’s.  Over the years I had spent a lot of money in their stores buying PCs, a first generation DVD player, first generation MP3 player (yes, before the iPod), an early HD television, and plenty more.  I was passionate about all of the fun things they sold and I loved learning about what new products were coming out.  Simply said, I was a Best Buy zealot.  In fact, I enjoyed shopping in their stores so much that when they finally expanded to New Jersey I would purposely get my oil changed at the Jiffy Lube so that I could have an hour to spend in the Best Buy across the parking lot.

Over the better part of decade I would frequently find fellow Best Buy employees who didn’t really care about consumer electronics and a few who didn’t even want to shop in our stores.  Every time I would think to myself, “Why are you working here?”  The Twin Cities (Minneapolis & Saint Paul) is home to the highest percentage of Fortune 500 (list) companies per capita in the country.  Surly there are enough opportunities for you to work somewhere else, somewhere that better aligns with your interests and passions.  Why stay with a company that you’re not passionate about?

I realize that you cannot come into every company and be passionate about their products or services.  Not every company is a retailer with thousands of store fronts and not every company has “fun” technology to play with.  You might be at a company that services other businesses but you should be able to see and appreciate the value or impact they are creating in the economic food chain.  There should be some aspect of your company that you’re passionate about or at least interested in.  If not, you are simply in a job.  A job may pay the rent or mortgage but it is a bad scenario for both you and your employer.  From my previous experience, you can’t help a retailer get better when you don’t really care about the products they sell and you never shop in their stores.

As companies grow in size more layers are added into the hiring process, this is where small and mid-size companies will retain their competitive advantage.  Smaller organizations can continue ensure that new hires have both the skills and are a good fit.  They can better screen out potential employees that don’t have a passion for or interest in their products or services resulting in a more engaged workforce.

Food for thought:

  • Do you have a passion or interest in your organization’s products or services?
  • Do your colleagues display a passion or interest in your organization’s products or services?
  • Are there examples of large companies where most employees are passionate about their organization?
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