How I Found, Hired and Kept the Best Talent

By Peter Zieve, writer
Aug 02, 2017
Image Credit: By garagestock/Shutterstock

The founder of a successful engineering company on how he built a talented team.

Today’s world is data driven. From metrics and analytics online to standardized testing in schools, data makes this world go around. But, there are some outcomes that are difficult to measure with standarized data. At my company, Electroimpact, we have products, wages, and other business details that are easy to categorize, count, and analyze. But, there is one thing that is difficult to compartmentalize with numbers: engineering outcomes. And, this is ok by me.

Building a Home for Top Talent

Think of what the strategically critical function is in your business. The top talent in my company are engineers. We build systems that airline manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus use to assemble airplanes. So our source of competitive advantage is product development and engineering. My company is a haven for engineers. Especially engineers who have attended the best colleges and universities. I am an engineer and so are other top leaders and so we understand and respect engineers. Because our engineers are so smart and well educated, they can work without anyone micromanaging them and looking over their shoulders. At our company, engineers are revered for their minds and abilities.

What happens if an artist has to meet quotas?

Imagine if an artist had to craft his art based on meeting minimum data requirements and striving for maximum requirements. Would that artist feel free to work to his fullest capacities? Or would the artist simply want to meet the minimum standards? What if those standards were for sculpture, but the artist was an expert in mosaics? If data were used to evaluate the quality of the artist’s work, then the artist would most likely not succeed. But, what if the mosaic was the most beautiful one you had ever seen? Would you consider the artist a failure?

This is the idea that makes me want my engineers to act more like artists, not mathematicians or teachers. I do not want them to be constrained by preset standards. I want them to achieve on their own merit and drive for success. And, this business model has made my company extremely successful.

How do you free your top people to innovate?

There are currently more than 500 engineers who are doing their magic at my company. They develop, design, and perform without management breathing down their necks. And, they deliver products that please clients who keep coming back for more. For an engineer who likes to work independently, it is practically utopian. But, not everyone is cut out to function in a workplace like this.

To ensure that the people who work here are able to function in my engineering utopia, I have worked hard to attract, evaluated, and hire the best employees. Along with a group of my engineers, I have developed a innovative performance predictor that has helped me attract and keep the best talent. With this tool, I can evaluate candidates who will fit into Electroimpact and will thrive in the loosely structured environment.

How can you test for talent?

Every business is suited to a different type of talent. Understand the characteristics behind yout top people. Look at their level of education, intelligence, self sufficiency, motivation, creativity and so on. The test I use to determine whether an engineer will be a good fit at my business looks at a variety of traits. This test was not something that was developed overnight. It was designed after several years of analyzing what personality traits and skills the best engineers at Electroimpact displayed. This test determines compatibility. We are trying to determine if the management style at my company will encourage the candidate to create brilliant ideas or if it is incompatable from the candidate's work style. 

To get the answers that I need, the test delves into personality traits and the variety of skills that an engineer needs to succeed. Most of the questions are open-ended and ask engineers what they would do in certain situations. They are also asked some multiple choice questions that help showcase their personality traits. There are logic and reasoning questions, too. Due to the nature of the test, the only way to see the questions is to actually apply for a job and get to a point where the test needs to be taken.

The right employees build up the team, rather than break it down 

To date, this test has not let me down. It is that easy to find out if a candidate will become a valuable employee that fits with our style and will not rock the boat. I am not looking for someone to change the environment here, I’m looking for engineers and other employees who will continue to bring their drive for success to my team. When you take the time to really understand what kind of person fits your culture and your organization's needs then you can focus on finding that right match too.

 Micromanagement deters creativity

In today’s world, too many employees are over-managed. Maybe they need this because they are not good employees or a bad fit for the role or the company culture. Or, maybe the managers need to do this to justify their employment. But, I do not believe that hypermanagement is the way to success. When every employee’s move is evaluated and analyzed, the employee does not take risks. The employee simply does what needs to be done to avoid getting into trouble. I want employees who feel safe in their skills because when this happens, they are comfortable taking risks that eventually pay off for everyone involved. Without risks, innovation does not happen. Without innovation, companies like mine stay stagnant. And, without growth, companies die. I want Electroimpact to be around for the long haul, by providing innovative technology to the aerospace industry.

Innovation can happen in every industry if it is run properly 

Who knows, maybe someday, with the help of my innovative engineers, Electroimpact may have a branch on Mars. Or the moon. With the creative freedom to innovate, my engineers have the capability to do such a thing. Imagine what this would be like for other industries. What would school children do if they were encouraged to create and be innovative? What type of technology would we have if other tech companies functioned with the least amount of bureaucracy possible? Imagine what the biotech industry would be like if medical and biological engineers could do their jobs without the worry of meeting quotas?

When employees are able to function with the pride of their own achievements in the forefront of their minds rather than the approval of their managers, employees are capable innovation, creativity, and worthwhile risks that lead to a hefty bottom line. And, when that happens, everyone is ready for more!

I'm a life-long entrepreneur and innovator, and a devoted father and husband. I began a successful engineering company, Electroimpact, Inc. My company began from my invention of the Low Voltage Electromagnetic Riveter while I was pursuing my PhD from the University of Washington after my education at MIT. Separately from my business, I am now increasing my focus to civil servanthood. I'm excited to be running for my local city council.
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