What I’ve learned about hiring and team building

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Of all the things we do at Adaptive, the least glamorous, but possibly most important, is hiring and building team culture.

In building our team, we confront a set of annoying problems:

  1. We are not exactly curing cancer here at Adaptive. Very, very few people grow up excited about the idea of renovating and managing apartment buildings. So we’re not in a position to attract people motivated by mission.
  2. We are a small company, and therefore unable to offer the kind of pay and benefits that Google or Goldman Sachs can.
  3. I am a bad manager. By that I mean, I do not do a great job of creating, maintaining, and improving processes, nor holding people accountable to deadlines.

Despite those problems, we want to attract hard-working, smart, honest people to help us serve our tenants, clients and investors.

Here is what we have learned:

  1. Good people often don’t have the backgrounds or resumes you would expect. We have got A+ performance from people who didn’t finish college, people with personal bankruptcies, and people with (minor) criminal records. The majority of people who work for us had never worked in real estate before coming aboard.
  2. Further to the above: Good people are often refugees from the creative industries, where hours are long, stress is high, and pay can be uncertain. Often, people who start their careers in more glamorous industries burn out on them as they’re exiting their 20s, when they start to value life-style, predictability, and steady pay. We are always looking to scoop up the best of these people.
  3. Good people often have outside interests / lives they prioritize over work. So, we try to create an environment that allows them to do good work while also leaving plenty of energy and time for their outside interests.
  4. Good people HATE being micromanaged. As noted above, I am a bad manager. I barely keep up with the work I need to do to move the company forward; it would be impossible for me to do this while also telling other people how to do their jobs. So, I need to try to hire good people, point them generally in the right directions, and get out of the way. Usually, this works pretty well.
  5. Good people are demotivated by low-performing colleagues. My personal bias is strongly towards trying to treat employees like family. However, if you have someone who is not performing, it makes things awful for everyone else. So, I have learned to cut ties quickly (and humanely) with people who, for whatever reason, don’t get their work done here.

Obviously, Adaptive is still a major work in progress. It remains to be seen if we can grow our current team of around 10 full-time people into the (much) larger organization I imagine we will be 10, 20, or 30 years from now, without losing what makes us special. But we’re going to try.

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