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If you’ve ever been involved in building or leading a company, you will know that what you plan is very rarely what actually happens.

Throughout your startup journey, you are going to encounter many random obstacles that will impede your plans. Here are a few examples of some I personally encountered in my time at Hotjar:

  • We found out an engineer in an already under-staffed team had decided to leave the company, so our hiring plans (which had already been announced to the whole company) had to be re-shuffled.
  • We realized that a project originally estimated to take 1 month was instead going to take 3, so we were forced to decide whether to stick to it or ditch it.
  • A top-performing team we were relying on for a big feature release suddenly had to drop what they were doing to address a big bug our customers had discovered.

Each time something like this happened, we had to take decisions – sometimes tough decisions that were very disappointing to the team members affected. The team members who reacted the worst were those who weren't comfortable with change.

One of the main things that helped me become a better engineer and leader was becoming comfortable with the fact that not everything needs to be perfect, and many things will inevitably go wrong.

Over time, I found myself wanting to work with team members who embraced change and didn't get demotivated by instability.

So why does any of this matter?

Experienced leaders understand that these curveballs are absolutely normal. Your job, as a leader, is to make sure your team understands this too.

Throughout my career, I have encountered people with two approaches to problems. Let's call them problem solvers and stability seekers.

A megaminx (a variation of a Rubik's cube) solved.
Photo by ALAN DE LA CRUZ / Unsplash

A problem solver is somebody who discovers an issue and quickly sees it as an opportunity to learn and challenge themselves.

A stability seeker is somebody who thrives in a stable and highly predictable environment, and who will react negatively when something goes off-plan. They may often see problems that aren't really there simply because the situation is evolving in a way that deviates from the original plan.

I'm over-simplifying of course, but the general idea is that whereas some people see change as a positive, others do their best to avoid it.

As a founder or leader, you need a team that embraces disruption (embraces, not aims for) and sees it as a way to continually evolve and improve. You need a team of problem solvers.

How do you make this happen?

Firstly, you need to proactively teach your team about the realities of growing a startup.

You can teach your team in many ways:

  • Feature it as part of your company values: you need to get the message across that the company embraces change and sees imperfection as a sign of progress.
  • Present it to your team: you might even want to have an all-hands session explaining the realities of a growing business and making sure they realise that changed plans and some disappointments along the way are inevitable in a growing startup.
  • In your one-on-ones, keep repeating it over and over again – change is good!

Secondly, you need to make sure you're hiring people who are excited to work in a fast-paced, fast-changing, environment.

You can make your life easier by hiring people with the right mindset in the first place. That means hiring people who react well to change.

Here are a few examples of questions you can ask in interviews:

  • Can you tell me about a time you were forced to change plans in your previous/current role?
  • Can you tell me what frustrates you the most in your current/previous role?

In each case, your goal is to find out how they reacted to change. Were they bitter about it? Did they start to blame others? Did they take the initiative to tackle the problem? Or did they just rely on others?

Finally, if you do reference calls, you should definitely talk about how the candidate tackled change.

Ask direct questions like:

  • Did person X ever react badly to a change that wasn't planned?
  • When introducing a new change, was it easy to get person X on board?

As a founder or leader, it's critical that you surround yourself with a team that knows and accepts that we live in an imperfect world. Perfect plans will get derailed, and priorities will change overnight. That's just the nature of being in a startup.

Are you looking for a Startup Advisor? I might be able to help.