Getting clinical about company culture

The ‘culture’ of a business is something many large companies spend a lot of time, and money, getting right. But getting the right mix of staff is something start-ups should be concerned about too, as The Missing Link found out ­– expensively.


The Missing Link is a multi-disciplinary IT and communications outsourcing service, founded in 1997 by best friends Alex Gambotto and Daniel Forsythe.


In February this year, the Sydney-based business completed its first acquisition, integrating the infrastructure division of IT services firm Artis Group, allowing it to expand its business lines and technical expertise.


With the acquisition, the company has grown from 40 employees to 60 and now serves more than 300 clients. In 2010, it boasted revenue of $14.41 million and is on track to deliver $20-22 million this year.


But that’s not to say there weren’t bumps along the way. In the beginning, the founders’ clinical approach to job interviews proved an ill fit for the start-up.


“At the beginning, we really focused on hiring people based on their skills rather than their culture fit,” Gambotto says.


“We would look for a particular role, find the person with that skill and fill the role. Every business makes mistakes when hiring people and it’s not so much that the person is not capable of doing the role – it’s just that they’re not capable of doing the role in this business.”


Forsythe and Gambotto soon realised skills alone were not sufficient for a small start-up, and swiftly changed their tact.


“We implemented a proprietary hiring system where we would follow a procedure and we would invest time in understanding what type of people they are rather than [only] what they’re capable of. We would actually focus on both,” he says.


Gambotto says he had to stop himself from prompting candidates during job interviews.


“I definitely think that people sometimes hire the wrong people because they know what they need and they hear someone in an interview say a couple of key words that they’re looking for and it’s almost like: this person’s the right person because they said the two words I was looking for,” he says.


“One thing I did a lot at the beginning was I almost gave the interviewees the answers. I would actually almost tell them what I wanted to hear before they spoke. Then they would say it and I’d be like, exactly!”


Nowadays, the business is not only more successful thanks to its hiring system – it’s even rewarded for it.


“People who’ve come here looking for work, who’ve been interviewed by us – some of them have actually ended up as clients because of our interviewing skills; because of the fact that they really appreciated that we just didn’t try and force them into a position they didn’t like,” Gambotto says.


“At the beginning, we would just take people who were selling themselves – we would just take them at face value. Now, red flags pop up when someone says something.”


Gambotto says small firms can’t afford to hire the wrong people, claiming it can have disastrous effects on their business.


“When you’re a huge company, you have more bandwidth in your resources and your people so that if you do happen to make a couple of mistakes, it doesn’t crush your business,” he says.


“When you’re small, you have the advantage of being small, but at the same time if you hire the wrong people or it just doesn’t work out, it can really effect the growth of your business.


“It may not affect it in the long run – you may still actually achieve everything you needed to achieve – but it will definitely slow it down. It’s essentially like a hurdle.”


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