Serial entrepreneur Richard Branson describes his conglomerate The Virgin Group as an “open zoo.”
Writing in his book “The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership,” published in September 2014, Branson emphasizes the importance of creating a friendly (if, in his case, chaotic) company culture. After all: entrepreneurs should love what they do, and that often means finding the right people to work with.
No matter what culture you’re trying to create–be it zoolike or more traditionally serious–hiring the right people is critical.
Here’s what Branson does to ensure his business brings on the best people:
1. Don’t delegate—do it yourself.
While it’s tempting to let HR handle everything, Branson urges entrepreneurs to get their hands dirty. He, like Google CEO Larry Page, insists on being involved with all senior-level hiring decisions (even when it means flying those candidates out to Necker island for an interview.)
What’s more, Branson likes to look for talent in places where he himself does not excel, recalling that Spanx’s CEO Sara Blakely once said to him: “The smartest thing I ever did in the early going was to hire my weaknesses.”
Evaluate where you personally could stand to improve, and seek out that quality in others.
2. Prioritize character over the resume.
Branson warns that you shouldn’t put too much emphasis on the applicant’s past experience. After all, cultivating a diverse team–including candidates from different job sectors–can lead you to better, more creative solutions.
Citing Ralph Waldo Emerson, who once said “Character is higher than intellect,” Branson goes on to explain that Virgin conducts group interviews where applicants are asked to play games with one another: “The idea being to let applicants’ personalities shine through in simulated real-life situations–we want people who can laugh and have fun with our guests, which is not something you can easily reconnoiter by reading a CV and asking questions over an interview desk.”
And sometimes, if the applicant is really nervous during an interview, Branson will ask them to tell him a joke. It’s a great icebreaker, he writes, allowing them to express their own, unique personality.
3. Beware of candidates who want to be “set free.”
As an entrepreneur, it’s also tempting to favor formerly “caged” applicants who say that they’re ready for a more open position in a startup with less structure.
But be careful, writes Branson: “The not insignificant issue is, ‘You can take the person out of the cage, but can you take the cage out of the person?'”
Many former executives actually depend on structure, and can’t handle the responsibility that comes with having freedom at work.