Necessity is the mother of invention. Nowhere is that more true than in how we have developed talent at cleverbridge since inception. As a bootstrapped company, we didn’t have the luxury of hiring the most experienced and best pedigreed employees. However, we turned this disadvantage into a talent advantage that fuels us to this day. My mantra now is we don’t offer jobs, we create careers.
In the earliest days of cleverbridge, long before we knew what we were doing or before we could afford using recruiters, we built a team of Bad News Bears from the chaotic listings of Craigslist, student job boards and word-of-mouth. We couldn’t compete financially with Google, Amazon or Salesforce and frankly, we still can’t. However, being a nimble enough company to care about the person who is the employee, we’re able to invest in their future and build trust and loyalty.
Job vs. Career
Most of the employees who have built careers at cleverbridge started out viewing cleverbridge as a job. And to be honest, in those early days, that was how I thought about them too. The change, however, was not a master plan created in a basement studio clinic with leftover moderately warm beer and Alf on a black-and-white TV. Nope. It was something that we stumbled into by “luck”.
In the early years, we were starting to grow quite fast and promoted a lot of very junior people into roles with greater and greater responsibility. This path was the beginning of the career journey at cleverbridge. Depending on the skills and desires of the employee, matched with what’s available in the company, we moved willing, underdeveloped people around like pieces on a chess board to fit our needs. The employee learned new skills they previously didn’t have and we created loyalty.
Then a funny thing happened: new arriving employees chose us because of the opportunity to move within the company and learn a skill or craft. During the interview process we told stories about how many people had moved within the company, some of them into very important and successful roles responsible for our top clients or leading a global team of people. None of those employees would have had this opportunity at other companies at such an early stage of their career so we were receiving the benefit of coachable talent at under market rates with healthy loyalty.
Thinking Different to Compete
Here’s some ways that we stayed ahead of a competitive market:
- Hire young — We hired many people without careers yet so we could offer them opportunities as the company need arose.
- Challenge — Because we were growing fast, we had to give projects to inexperienced people, but this created opportunities for them to be challenged and to grow.
- Mentor — Our few experienced employees were expected to spend time mentoring the juniors on what each job encompassed. This takes a team approach. It was also easy to see who was coachable and who wasn’t.
- Don’t Judge— It’s easier said than done, but whether it’s related to someone’s scholastic training, their prior work experience or their opinion, who says that they can’t accomplish something?
- Failure Accepted — We encouraged mistakes be made internally so that we could all learn from those mistakes.
I’ll share some specific examples in a follow up post because I’m proud of the people and there are a few lessons I use in there. For example, the first cohort of three students that I hired 12 years ago spent 26 total years with cleverbridge and have touched responsibility for all of our top US based clients and then some. We would have never had that kind of success without the constraints imposed by our situation. Thank you, Plato. :)