Teaming building is one of the most important aspects of growing a brand or business. Learning how to find good employees is a craft and something I’ve focused on for a while. I’ve used nature as my guide and found that if you hire Ants your business will flourish. To be clear when I say hire Ants I mean look for people who have the characteristics of Ants. I know now a days people are fascinated with hiring Unicorns but Unicorns don’t exist. Ants do!
Source: Shutter Stock
Ants Are the Best Employees
When I was younger I always wanted to be a naturalist so how I ended up in the glorious business of advertising is beyond me. In my youth, I spent a lot of time studying nature and Ants. When I was a toddler I stomped on an Ant Hill and they swarmed me. We struggled, they won and I ran away. #respect.
In middle school, I bought an Uncle Milton Ant Farm and started to study them and grew to admire them. I learned a ton from them and used what I learned to build a best in class Search and Content Marketing Team at MullenLowe Profero and now MullenLowe Mediahub. We recently got nominated for SEO agency of the year, AdAge covered our extreme growth and that put me on AdAge’s 40 Under 40 list in 2015. Team building was key to our success and none of this would have happened if I wasn’t focused on hiring people with the characteristics of the Mighty Ant.
The Mighty Ant vs. The U.S Government
Ants are tiny but they will eat your lunch and your dinner too. The US government waged war on the Ants in the mid-west because they kept eating the coating on the telephone wires. They considered Ants pests and were determined to wipe them out. They spent millions on a campaign to destroy them. They hit them with everything from pesticides to human exterminators. They killed livestock, cockroaches, grass, frogs, rats, agriculture but not the mighty Ants.
After a while Uncle Sam realized that they couldn’t win this war so they decided to cut their losses and call it quits.
The Real King of the Jungle
When Army Ants swarm in the jungle everything must leave. That’s right, even Lions and Tigers and Bears. Oh my! Entire human villages clear out because if they literally catch you sleeping they will suffocate you and eat you from the inside.
Video on Ants in the Jungle
When the world ends it won’t be the cockroaches that rule the world it will be the Ants that do.
Why I hire Ants?
An individual Ant is remarkable and they are natural builders.
Team Building, 5 Characteristics of Good Employees (Ants)
Team building is difficult but this is how I find good employees. I look to hire talent that have the 5 characteristics below. Ants are extremely successful because they have these characteristics.
Ants are extremely strong and durable. The average ant can carry between 10 and 50 times its own body
weight, run at 300 meters an hour, which is nearly 800 times its body length a minute.
Plus, they have work ethic that is unrivaled in the Animal Kingdom. In the work place capacity translates to bandwidth or the ability to do work and work ethic is the willingness to do work. These two things are key if you want to grow a company. Rapid growth causes extreme instability so you need people who can do their jobs and more. You need people who thrive in chaos and won’t fold under pressure or stress. You need natural builders who run towards a challenge and not away from it.
How to screen for capacity
The way I screen for capacity is by looking for people who have side projects. If someone has a day job and the ability to also run a blog or website, then that is a great thing. This shows that one they can get a project done even with a full-time job. Two it shows that they have a passion for digital advertising because they are willing to do it whether they have a job or not.
Reliability is extremely important in team building. When I was younger I got stabbed in the back a couple of times during a street fight because a person I relied on ran when I needed him most. This has directly influence who I hire and want to work with. Every Ant in a colony has a job and they will do it to the best of their ability. They will die for the colony and they get their job done. When I stomped on the Ant hill as a child they swarmed me. They ran towards the threat and made it go away.
The colony relies on:
-Soldiers: to protect the colony
-Workers: to feed and run the colony
-Queen: to make more Ants
-Drones: to make mate and make more Ants
In business it’s the same thing. Each person on your team has a job to do and you should be able to rely on them to get that job done. Without reliable talent, you won’t be able to scale and growth is impossible.
How to screen for reliability:
Look for people who have stayed at a company for a while and grew with it. When people jump around from job to job it is a natural red flag. The younger generation even use this as a strategy to increase their salary quickly. What they don’t realize is the value they get from sticking around at a company for more than a year. Not only does it make your resume look good but you can’t make an impact within an organization until you have been there for a while. Some people have really good reasons for doing jumping around. Before sticking with Profero for the past 4.5 years I hopped around a bunch but I have a clear reason for why I left each company. If your candidate can’t explain why they left a position in a meaningfully way, then you should not hire them.
3. Excellent Communication
Ants are excellent at communicating. They communicate using pheromones. When an Ant finds food, they leave a scent that lets other Ants know where the food is. As each Ant carries food back to the colony they let the next Ant know where they found food and if there is more. Humans don’t use pheromones but they have a plethora of technology plus their mouth and body to communicate. You have to have staff that are excellent at communicating in order to run and grow a business. Without it your company is doomed.
How I screen for excellent communicators
When I interview people I usually look for people who would be willing to talk to anyone. I’m naturally shy and a huge introvert but I work in advertising so I worked hard to get over that. I look for people who are willing to pick up the phone or walk over and poke the CEO if they haven’t gotten them what they need. Once I hire someone I encourage them to speak to Aaron the CEO of our company and Jonathan our MD even if it scares the hell out of them. I try and break that silly idea that the CEO is someone who can’t be bothered. The brave ones who listen eventually realize that CEOs and MDs are people and they learn how to communicate with the top of the food chain. Here is an example of how annoying I can be about this. Liz on my team will talk to anyone and can sell you your own arm.
When you are building a team you have to look to hire people who are naturally supportive.
Ants are extremely supportive of each other and will come to the aid of another ant no matter what. The best example of this is when it rains and an Ant colony gets flooded. When this happens the worker Ants grab the larva and queen and form a ball with the queen at the center. The solider ants lock legs around the worker, larva and Queen. They then float on water for months until they find land. No solider will hold on to another so tight that they rip each other’s legs off. If there is to much pressure on the ant raft they let go and relink legs in a better position. When they do find land the scout ant heads out to find a home. When it finds a new home it runs back and tells the rest of the ants and leaves pheromones so the other Ants can find it. Then the solider Ants form a path with solider in the front and on the sides, so that the Queen and worker Ants can walk safely to the new home. The soldiers kill anything and everything in the way. Then they all rebuild the new home. It’s an incredible process.
How it Applies to the work place
When it comes to the work place and team building this is extremely important. The worst thing I hear people say at work is “That’s not my job.” Sometimes things aren’t your job but they have to get done for the success of the team. Ants just get it done. In agency life, this is crucial because sometimes you need to shift people around to support accounts and projects that are understaffed. You also have to be able to shift talent to help solve problems that pop up. If you hire Ants, they shift themselves because they are always communicating with each other and don’t mind stepping up for the good of the team.
In my current role I pitch for:
- MullenLowe Profero
- MullenLowe Mediahub
This means if each company has 5 pitches each I have 10 pitches.
But this pitch cadency is impossible without a supportive team. It’s still brutal because we all have our day jobs (I have search teams in 5 states in the US plus client work) but when the RFPs come in we come together like an Ant colony when it rains and we get it done. We make that Ant raft and we float. We protect each other, support each other and solider on.
How to screen for supportive talent
This is a really hard to screen for but it’s where your post hiring feedback comes in. We usually give feedback to people during week 3-7-11. This allows us to test them to see if they can actually do the job and to see if they are supportive team players or can be trained to become that.
5. Team Players (The Super Organism)
Ant colonies are so connected that they form something called super organism.
A super organism is: an organized society (as of a social insect) that functions as an organic whole.
In the work place this is displayed as team morale and comradely. If your culture is strong then your super organism will be highly connected. On the search team and MediaHub and Profero the camaraderie is tangible. It’s electrifying and it draws other teams in and it powers the work that we do. If you have team players then team building becomes much easier.
How to Develop Team Culture
I can write a book on team building and company culture but I’ll keep this short. Sometimes your company may have a terrible culture but you should focus on building a great culture on your own team. Team culture is built from the top down and goes well beyond happy hour, summer Fridays and unlimited vacation. You should try and lead by example and never ask your team to do something that you would never do. As their leader, no job should be below you. This sends the clear message that we are in this together and that you have their back. The rest just happens from there. This is extremely important because in advertising (and other industries) a lot of the executives don’t actually do any work. People do everything for thing for them and after a while the tree of resentment bears fruit.
Team Building and Finding Great Employees
To find good employees and build a strong team you should look for people who are natural builders. The best talent as an individual should be like an Ant. They should be able to carry their own workload and then some. They should be able to communicate well. They should be supportive and reliable. Then when you put them together with other Ants they should be excellent teammates and form an unstoppable colony. This will drive your business growth and attract other very talented people. The only downside about Ants is that a worker will never be a Queen. But that really doesn’t matter because we are humans and we promote those who earn the crown.