What to look for in a great employee

Edited excerpt from Jason Lemkin’s answer to From the perspective of a CEO, what are the most underrated skills most employees lack?:


Most employees just can’t be owners.  This may not matter at Adobe, or Google, or wherever. But up until you have 500 employees or so, the CEO is looking for owners.  People that don’t just play a role, but truly own something, that make 100% sure it comes in ahead of time and ahead of expectations — with as little drama as possible.

Ship your feature ahead of time, and make it delightfully better than expected.  Better yet, ship a feature everyone else said was too hard to build, that couldn’t be done.  Hit your sales plan well ahead of time, while still making time to help others and show them how to do it as well.  Hit your lead commit ahead of time.  Don’t just balance the books, but exceed the collections goal, every month.  Whatever it is.

This isn’t the same as “taking the initiative”, it’s a superset of that.  It’s delivering.  And it’s very, very easy to do in a start-up actually.  Vs. almost impossible in a BigCo.  Just overdeliver on everything you’re given to do.  And not just your part — the whole project you are working on.  See where others are falling behind, and help them.  Folks around you will naturally gravitate toward that.  You’ll become a natural leader, over time.

(1) How could you test for this in the hiring process?
(2) Cf. Setting clear goals = empowerment.

5 thoughts on “What to look for in a great employee

  1. Whenever possible I try and engage the candidate in a week-long assignment (specific to my product or a generic product in the same category) before they land up for the interview. If they really care for the job – they will over-deliver and create something delightful and effective.

  2. From the description it seems there are several aspects to the term owner. I think each deserves identification.

    Asking what the said candidate would do if they had an idea that they thought would improve a product / performance parameter / … An ‘owner’, I would guess, would explain a POC, or how he’d think through the and develop the idea. An ’employee’ would shoot the idea by their manager.

    Asking what type of help someone thinks they could extend departments (in some scenario which should be related to their skillset) which are unrelated to them would show you if this is someone with the tendency to help those who are ‘falling behind’.

    Responsibility and overview:
    There are many “Daniel Kahanman” style questions which could cover this, the best scenario he describes IMHO, is asking why something hypothetically failed.

    It might be much simpler though… If you are looking for someone who would be an owner, start by asking them if they are interested in being owners of the role they are given. If so, ask them what that means to them. I

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