Decision-Making Archetypes

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Updated August 24, 2022

You’re reading an excerpt of The Holloway Guide to Technical Recruiting and Hiring, a book by Osman (Ozzie) Osman and over 45 other contributors. It is the most authoritative resource on growing software engineering teams effectively, written by and for hiring managers, recruiters, interviewers, and candidates. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, over 800 links and references, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.

Before you make an offer to someone, think about whether you’d like to have 10 times as many people like them in your company.Patrick Collison, co-founder and CEO, Stripe*

No two companies make hiring decisions in exactly the same way. Nor should they. Companies tend to design their decision-making processes in a way that reflects both their goals and their philosophy on recruiting.

At many smaller startups, the decision-making process tends to be relatively informal. As a company grows and management layers start to form, there is a risk that hiring quality can deteriorate. Hiring managers, faced with an urgency to build out their team, may be less selective about who they extend an offer to, racking up diversity debt in the process. Hiring managers may also be less aware of the company’s culture or do not participate in it fully, which can lead to cultural dilution. This is why understanding how hiring decisions are related to company philosophies and are part of maintaining company values is essential—the risks for losing those things over time is great. At the same time, as a company grows, strategies have to change. It wouldn’t make sense for a company of 100 to involve every employee in a hiring decision, even if that was the practice when the company was 8 people.

We’ve put together a list of (somewhat fictitious) company archetypes to help illustrate how different goals, philosophies, and company values can impact how hiring decisions are made.

ConsensusCo (Small Company)

ConsensusCo is a startup that believes in decision-making by consensus. Tyranny is the enemy—everyone should be involved and have a say. ConsensusCo might have a culture that is conflict-averse and prone to groupthink, leading them to “default to no” when hiring. Or it might have a culture that values healthy debate and disagreement a little too much. Any interviewer or team member can veto the candidate. Overall, ConsensusCo tends to be slow and conservative when hiring, and might hire engineers who are similar in personality and skill set to its current team. But, when someone is hired, the team is fully invested in the newcomer’s success.

candidate Candidates who interview with ConsensusCo should expect to meet a large part or the entirety of the team.

AgileCo (Small Company)

At AgileCo, everyone might get a say, but the hiring manager (often the founder) makes the ultimate decision about who gets hired. In some extreme circumstances, AgileCo might not tell its employees what position a candidate is interviewing for or allow interviewers to share their feedback with each other (especially if the candidate is a potential executive). In theory, AgileCo holds a “hire slow, fire fast” mentality. In practice, this means many people in the company privately will talk about hires who weren’t right or weren’t qualified. That said, the team understands that speed is important and that some risks might need to be taken, and most of the time believes management is taking reasonable risks.

CommitteeCo (Medium to Large Company)

CommitteeCo believes that “false positives,” or bad hires, should be avoided at all costs. CommitteeCo is highly scientific about its hiring practices and has collected significant academic research and in-house people analytics that show that interviewers and hiring managers are often prone to cognitive biases and poor decision-making. At CommitteeCo, a candidate’s application must go through a highly calibrated, impartial hiring committee and multiple senior reviews before an offer can be extended. This slows down the hiring process, but CommitteeCo believes it can quantitatively prove that this process is superior. Since CommitteeCo is hiring for company fit over team fit, it views software engineers in a somewhat commoditized fashion and expects to be able to easily move them between teams and managers. In fact, many new engineers at CommitteeCo don’t find out their actual team assignment until after joining.

CommitteeCo is a highly desirable employer and uses its selective employment process as a marketing point. That said, hiring managers there are secretly frustrated, and in fact, the more senior they get, the more likely hiring managers are to try to subvert parts of the process. Candidates interviewing at CommitteeCo are also frustrated, but often a lot less secretly.

AccountabilityCo (Large Company)

AccountabilityCo values individual responsibility, trust, and decentralized decision-making. Hiring managers are empowered to make their own decisions and can make them quickly. This results in more flexibility, and a team at AccountabilityCo can hire a candidate with some rough edges if they are a good fit for the team. AccountabilityCo is liberal about firing. An engineer that ends up not being a fit can expect to quickly be out of a job (perhaps with a severance package). A manager that makes poor hiring decisions can expect the same.

AccountabilityCo is very critical about introducing any steps that might undermine managers’ autonomy. With this increase in decision-making freedom comes a cost—hiring managers “own” a lot of the recruiting process and, in addition to making a final decision, have to dedicate large chunks of time to everything from crafting roles to sourcing candidates.

PragmaticCo (Large Company)

Often, AgileCo’s grow up to be PragmaticCo’s. PragmaticCo straddles the spectrum between AccountabilityCo and CommitteeCo. PragmaticCo is generally anti-process, but understands that some process can be good. The company believes that it must have some amount of checks and balances and oversight on hiring decisions, but finds pragmatic ways of doing so (for instance, requiring a senior executive to review any hiring decision).

The process at PragmaticCo might be very fluid and evolve as the company faces different growing pains. For instance, as the company expands, it might realize that it’s no longer working well to have a senior exec review hiring decisions, as the gap between executive responsibilities and the day-to-day needs of teams grows. They experiment with other methods, like having a “bar raiser” on every interview loop.

Figure: Example Decision-Making Archetypes

Source: Holloway

Decision-Making Techniques

While any of the above archetypes can be highly successful, each has pitfalls, and the way a company makes hiring decisions can impact the candidate experience and the type of people that get hired. The techniques employed to make hiring decisions are often driven by an underlying philosophy about who should be empowered to make decisions and how those decision-makers should be held accountable.

As you’re building your process, you might use these techniques:

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