To build a successful startup, your number one priority is to hire great people. Being energized by the people you work with translates to everyone doing their best work. When I was building my company in 2020, I wanted our edge to be our employees.
After examining my years of building world changing products, scaling a unicorn, and working at various startups, I found that in my career, periods of amazing outcomes correlated with having high-clarity + high-energy colleagues. What's more, when organizations had low-clarity + low-energy people, my work was slower and emotionally draining. In order to build a world-class team, I needed to find a repeatable measure of high-clarity + high-energy people; this led me to develop the Clarity + Energy Matrix.
Amazing outcomes correlate with having high-clarity + high-energy people.
What is clarity?
Clarity is how effective someone conveys information through their words and actions. High-clarity people create understanding in everything they say and do, they require direction but don't require perfect information to act. Low-clarity people create confusion and distraction, usually they ask (or are told) multiple times how to correctly satisfy requirements.
In startups, time is the most valuable asset. Time spent building the wrong thing is worse than not building anything at all. High-clarity people reduce the risk in building the wrong thing or building for the wrong reasons. This leads to more autonomy and faster innovation speeds.
High-clarity people promote more autonomy and higher innovation speeds.
How to measure clarity?
Judging someone's clarity is not a matter of changing your process as much as it is changing what you perceive in your existing interviews. I added the following steps to our culture questions to judge clarity
- Through the question, take notes on what you perceive the motivation, the key take-aways, the goals, the result, of each situation.
- At the end of the question take a couple minutes to review your understanding with the candidate. This is separate from the actual contents of the question and should be evaluated independently.
- Take the opportunity to have the candidate correct anything you may have missed.
If at the end, you felt that you continually kept learning without backtracking, that your interpretation was easy to write down, and that the candidate actively sought to help you understand, you've got yourself a high-clarity person.
What is energy?
Energy is the effect that a person gives others. This energy can be curiosity, inspiration, creativity, and yes even excitement. Different than the "beer test", you aren't looking for someone to entertain you, this is about bringing someone onboard that makes the whole team better.
Startups are a scarce resource environment. They require being able to create something out of nothing with fewer resources than you'd like. The only way to achieve the impossible is to have a team of people who's whole is greater than a sum of their individual parts. High-energy people promote a growth-mindset and increase the breadth of problems your company can solve.
High-energy people promote a growth-mindset and increase the breadth of problems your company can solve.
How to measure energy?
The question you have to answer with energy is: will this person push the team positively in some way?
Not everyone has the same superpower, a few examples I've seen of extraordinary energy:
- The curious designer that influenced others to think differently about the right answer to our customer's problems.
- The resilient leader who created outcomes from ambiguous situations that others thought were impossible.
- The detail-oriented engineer who kept us honest and helped create one of the smoothest products I've built.
As this is an interpersonal trait, it requires getting feedback from multiple people. As your team members evaluate their interview slots, at the end, they should answer: what will this person push me in?
What will this person push me in?
Review all your answers at the end. If most (>%50%) of your team feels like they will be pushed in some way: you've got a high-energy person.
As you continue to hire, you'll notice that your team's standards will continually get higher as you keep bringing in people that make everyone better. This flywheel creates a culture of collaboration, growth-mindset and achieving the impossible. That sounds like a world-class team :)
High-energy people create a cultural flywheel of collaboration, growth-mindset and achieving the impossible.
The Clarity-Energy Matrix
So by now you should be convinced that you need high-clarity + high-energy people! When I developed this matrix, I loved that it easily slid in to our interview processes but vastly increased our understanding of candidates. At the end of each candidates interview loop, I would write and share feedback with the team and then simply put the candidate in the matrix. The top-right people were consistently our 10x'ers and were a "yes" well after their start date.
This matrix can also give you insight into your current company environment:
- As an employee, if your leaders are not in the top right, you should leave.
- If you're a manager, if your direct reports aren't in the top right, you have some work to do.
- As an executive leader, if you don't feel your other leaders are in the top-right, it's time to get them some coaching.
What about low-clarity or low-energy?
I get it. Sourcing good candidates is hard. What do you do when you have a competent candidate that lacks high-clarity or high-energy? Or even if they have mid-clarity and mid-energy?
In my experience these folks end up lacking self-motivation and self-discipline, resulting in dulling the edge on your would-be world-class team. One wrong hire can kill your team; anything but high-energy + high-clarity trends towards mediocrity. Zero high-growth startups have mediocre teams, you shouldn't.
Zero high-growth startups have mediocre teams, you shouldn't.
90% of startups fail. There are a bunch of reasons that basically boil down to one thing: the right people weren't in the room.
In order to build a world-class team you need high-clarity + high-energy people. Use the matrix and hire everyone in the top right. Good luck friends!