Kevin Dunn | Crain's Atlanta

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Kevin Dunn

Background:  

Launched in 2015, Decisely is a small business benefits and HR platform that manages the entire lifecycle of an employee’s relationship with a company. Founded by brokers, the company is committed to helping advisors serve and nurture small businesses using its free platform. In December of 2016, the company raised $60 million from Two Sigma Private Investments and EPIC Insurance Brokers and Consultants, a portfolio company of Oak Hill Capital Partners.

The Mistake:

Over the course of my career, I have had the good fortune to work at a diverse set of companies, both by industry and by size. From airlines to insurance companies, I’ve also had my share of experience hiring and firing team members.

Anyone that’s held this responsibility for any length of time will tell you that it’s impossible to zero in on one mistaken hire or overextended stay—there are bound to be multiple instances of both. But perhaps my most notorious hire was the son of a colleague who was regularly—and so severely—late that his family bought him a clock with a 120-decibel alarm (for reference, a jet engine is 140 decibels).

Conversely, as a highly collaborative person that looks for the best in everyone, I’ve allowed more than one employee to remain with my companies longer than I should have in the hopes that they would improve. These can turn into poisonous situations that hurt productivity and harm relationships for the rest of the company. As a mentor once told me, “Hope is not a business strategy.”

But over time, you do develop an understanding of human nature and learn a few rules of thumbs about approaching hiring. I was determined to apply those lessons at my new company, Decisely.

As a mentor once told me, 'Hope is not a business strategy.'

The Lesson:

Of course, the pressure to get it right at Decisely was even greater because we are a benefits and HR platform for small businesses. Our mission is to help take the pressure off small business owners and allow them to focus on their core business by automating and advising on everything from recruiting and hiring to insurance and benefits administration.

A toxic hire or a high rate of turnover at our own company would be a tough sell to customers and impact our credibility as a trusted advisor.

What I’ve learned is that a company’s hiring needs change as you pass through different stages of growth:

  • Stage One: Under 20 employees demands individual rockstars who get things done;
  • Stage Two: Above 50 employees requires a move towards small (3 to 4 person) specialized teams for process development and efficiency;
  • Stage Three: Above 100 employees necessitates large (10 person) teams focused on process and unit economics.

Decisely recently crossed the 50-person mark with offices in four different states. In step with this hiring philosophy, we actively seek people that can work in small teams and help us build the processes and infrastructure necessary to reach our next headcount goal. Of course, there have been misfires along the way, but much less frequently than at earlier stops in my career and we have been much quicker to correct course when they do happen.

The end result of this learning has not only been a higher performing corporate culture at Decisely, but also the satisfaction of leading by example for our customers. I love when a client asks us, “What did you do?” and we can share advice we’ve already put into practice.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email jfisher@crain.com

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