First systems as important as first hires
Important, yet often forgotten:
So much startup advice comes down to one common element: Hiring the best people. Whether it’s Twitter threads about how the first 50 hires set the cultural tone, or blog posts recommending that a founder interview the first 100 employees, most pointers are about keeping an unwavering focus on the people who power startups.
“While I definitely agree that people are your most important asset, I’ve noticed that most content doesn’t talk as much about the systems. What I don’t come across as often is a read about how the systems that those first hires build are the manifestation of the culture,” says Fishner.
In his view, it’s not an either or — it’s both. “While early employees are of course a driving factor for the company culture, they’re only half the equation. The other half is the foundational systems,” he says. “The comparison I like to draw is the nature versus nurture debate. Both your genes and your memes are highly influential on your outcomes. Likewise, both your people and your systems are highly influential on your company’s outcomes — but the system side doesn’t get as much attention as it should.”
Fishner expands on why he thinks systems deserve equal footing. “While early employees help set implicit norms, building systems early in a company’s lifecycle sets explicit norms. How do decisions get made? How are meetings structured? How are goals set? These systems are much easier to build when the company is small, and very challenging to put into place as the company grows,” he says.
Fishner’s conviction here surprisingly comes from his college days. “I studied philosophy. My thesis was on the impacts of subconscious advertising techniques. Theories of economics are built on the foundational belief that individuals are rational, well-informed and autonomous. But in practice, none of those things are true. For example, we’re far from autonomous — each person influences other people,” he says.
“In my reading and research for the thesis, I came to more of a determinist worldview that free will is overrated and our willpower is overstated. We’re actually much more influenced by the environments that we’re put in.
source: “Focus on Your First 10 Systems, Not Just Your First 10 Hires — This Chief of Staff Shares His Playbook” in First Round Review (accessed 210601)