How a Clandestine Las Vegas Birthday Party Changed My Approach to Hiring

The best orgs scale on trust, not performance monitoring.

Sandra Lewis
Jan 27, 2017 · 6 min read

A few weeks ago, a longtime Worldwide101 client emailed me:

“You guys have built such a high-quality virtual team. What tools did you invest in to measure and assess the performance of your remote staff?

It was gratifying, of course, to receive that kind of feedback. But it also reminded me how far we’ve come. Because during our first year in business, we had more quality problems that I’d like to admit. And if there was one thing I learned, it was this:

While measurement and collaboration tools can be helpful, they’re no substitute for hiring team members you can actually trust.

Disappearing Team Members and All-Nighters

As a result, apps for tracking remote workers began emerging — some actually captured screen shots of remote workers’ computers to keep them honest.

As someone new to building and managing remote teams, I was naturally concerned about performance. But in the rush to supply early customers with business support specialists, I didn’t have the luxury of designing a rigorous process for quality control. I basically just posted jobs on various platforms that targeted remote workers and began delegating work to people who sounded competent.

Thankfully I have an innate sense for good talent, but disasters occurred more frequently than is acceptable.

For example, one day, a remote team member in Colorado disappeared without a trace, leaving me with 30 hours of unfinished voice transcription work. My co-founder and I toiled into the wee hours that night to complete the project ourselves.

Why Remote Monitoring Apps Didn’t Help

Unfortunately, tracking had virtually no impact on quality. For one thing, enforcing compliance — making sure everyone was actually logging hours and sharing progress — turned out to be a lot more time-consuming than I had expected. Worse, it quickly became clear that screenshots and time logs gave me zero insight into the quality of the work being performed.

It finally dawned on me: if I was spending so much time keeping people honest, maybe I was hiring the wrong people. What if I devoted more time and energy to evaluating those people before bringing them on board?

Screening for a Sense of Ownership: The Lie in Las Vegas

Needless to say, I never heard from her again.

Of course, many team members I hired turned out to be superstars. They went the extra mile for clients, did amazing work, and never missed deadlines.

One day, I decided to analyze these “lucky” hires: Was there something they had in common that I could screen for in new candidates?

It turned out there was. While these people had the necessary skills, they also demonstrated a clear sense of ownership of their work. As one of those high-performing virtual assistants once told me, “I’m not doing my best work for your sake. I’m doing it for mine because it matters to me, and because I want to retain both my clients and this lifestyle.”

How I Hire People Who Share Our Values: “Everyone Wins”

The funny thing is that, from the moment we founded the company, “Everyone Wins” was one of the core values we identified. But for some reason we never intentionally screened for it. Clearly, that had to change.

Over the last seven years, as we’ve grown to 100 virtual professionals throughout North America, the UK and Europe, “Everyone Wins” has been the key to maintaining the quality of our team. Here’s what I look for, and some techniques I’ve developed to spot it:

#1. Wanting others to win

#2. A desire to win for oneself

For example, we have a number of longtime team members who have moved from state to state for a spouse’s military postings, and we give them the chance to maintain a steady income while building a rewarding career. Without exception, our best performers made it clear from our earliest conversations that they had a personal stake in succeeding at their job.

#3. Passionate personal interests

#4. Curiosity about how our team defines success

This is also the question we want our virtual assistants to be asking our clients, so I like it when candidates ask me questions about how we define success.

#5. Positivity

Some people are clearly overwhelmed by a tough challenge; others light up at the chance to make things better.

Ultimately, Great Teams Scale Through Trust

That’s not to say, of course, that problems never arise. But when they do, it’s comforting to know that firing someone probably isn’t the answer. Just last month one of our managers called to say she was struggling to meet one of the performance targets we had established for her.

When I asked what I could do to help, she said, “Honestly, I’m worried you think I’m not working hard enough.”

I told her what I now say to everyone on my team: “I hired you because I trust you.” She smiled, and the tension in her shoulders disappeared. Then she went back to doing great work. Later that month, she smashed through her performance target.


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Sandra Lewis is the founder of Worldwide101, a premium virtual assistant company connecting demanding founders and executives with highly skilled, meticulously matched help. You can connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Startup Grind

Stories, tips, and learnings from and for startups around…

Sandra Lewis

Written by

Founder & CEO of https://boldly.com/

Startup Grind

Stories, tips, and learnings from and for startups around the world. Welcoming submissions re: startup education, tech trends, product, design, hiring, growth, investing, and more. Interested in submitting? Visit our submission form here: https://airtable.com/shrShpeN89HrzCzOB

Sandra Lewis

Written by

Founder & CEO of https://boldly.com/

Startup Grind

Stories, tips, and learnings from and for startups around the world. Welcoming submissions re: startup education, tech trends, product, design, hiring, growth, investing, and more. Interested in submitting? Visit our submission form here: https://airtable.com/shrShpeN89HrzCzOB

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