This is an extract from our upcoming E-Book "First Who, then Woo" where we interviewed 25 technology CEOs and HR leaders in the Silicon Valley and Europe about their successes and failures, views and opinions on growing technology companies. This chapter has only one piece of data from the participants but the other chapters contain considerably more.
“After the game… early edition newspapers with SUPER BOWL CHAMPS in bold letters were being displayed on the field… It was a celebration, but the team builders in the group were still thinking what was next.
‘For whatever reason what stood out more than the parties and parades was the reality of how far behind we were’, Pioli says.”
Michael Holley. War room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the art of building the perfect team
American Football is a laboratory for studying recruitment. Soccer is not.
Both are worth billions of dollars, highly competitive and highly scrutinised but crucially American football has a salary cap. When a rich soccer team, like Chelsea, wants success they open their chequebook and just buy players. If those players don’t work, they buy more players. When money is no object, mistakes don’t matter which is why Chelsea can pay thirty million and a hundred and twenty thousand pounds a week for Andrei Shevchenko to fail.
American football teams can’t overpay for players because if they overpay in one position they will have to underpay in another. In the stark world of the salary cap, NFL teams live and die on their player selections. As Bill Polian, Vice Chairman of the Indianapolis Colts, says when discussing his choice of Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf for the Colts quarterback position “If I had got that wrong…I’d be across the street, parking cars.” Five years after that selection, Manning was the named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. Leaf no longer plays professional American Football.
Villainous foreign billionaires do not fund most technology companies. Therefore, like the NFL, tech companies live and die on selection.
There are two crucial differences when assessing how NFL teams and technology companies recruit:
In Michael Lewis’s book, The Blind Side, College Head Coach Nick Saban flew hundreds of miles to visit star high school American Football player Michael Oher at his home. While trying to persuade Oher to play for Louisina State University, he charmed Oher’s mother by commenting on the material of her curtains. It’s hard to imagine Peter Jones from Dragon’s Den flying hundreds of miles to admire a computer engineer’s curtains!
If technology companies change their mind-set from stop-start to constant and their executive team from hands off to hands on, the competitive rewards are bigger than an NFL team’s payroll.
Let’s take a hypothetical situation: A tech[RS2] firm with 100 employees, double-digit growth and the expectation that they’ll need to recruit at least twenty members of staff during the next year. Now I would prefer every one of these employees to be involved in recruitment but some might call this unrealistic. Let’s just use the senior team of five: the CEO, CTO, COO, VP of Sales and VP of HR. Let’s conservatively say they work 250 days during that year and instead of spending whole days on recruitment they just spend twenty minutes purely on sourcing prospective candidates. Ten minutes on building a relationship with a source, ten minutes on speaking to a referral. They do this every day, without fail.
Over the course of the year they will collectively have spoken to 5,000 prospective candidates and because it was purely through referral their quality is to some extent prequalified. Instead of advertising and scrambling for recruits they have a pool of 5,000.
Most companies will complain that senior executives don’t have time for this. NFL executives are busy too. But there is a quantum leap in effort, professionalism, thoroughness, attention to detail and assessment between technology companies and the NFL.
Most technology companies will continue to recruit B players because recruiting A Players is so damn hard. However, the smart tech companies will see this as opportunity. As Malcolm Gladwell says
“Economic mobility, in any system, is essentially slack arbitrage: Hard work is a successful strategy for those at the bottom because those at the top no longer work so hard. By Custom, we disparage the idleness of the idle rich. We should encourage it. It is our best chance of taking their place.”
Disruption is a journey, 365 recruiting is a passport.
 The NFL is the National Football League, the professional form of American football.
 From George Anders book, The Rare Find
 Malcolm Gladwell, Slackers: Alberto Salazar and the art of exhaustion. The New Yorker.