Being an independent entrepreneur comes naturally to Megan Harney, founder and CEO of MIDAS Education, an education technology company that implements competency-based learning programs at scale. However, for the first eight years of the business, Megan preferred to do the operational work. She knew how to code, manage clients, and run the financial models. However, like many entrepreneurs, she learned she could not grow her business and do it all herself. When an investor told her it was time to hire someone, she knew she had to expand and empower her team. However, she had an InhibitHER: the struggle to let go of her independence and develop trusting relationships with those who could help her take her business to the next level.
Even as a child, trusting others was a process for Megan. She was bullied as a young child and built a strong sense of independence because of it. She preferred to spend time with adults discussing ideas and learning from those she considered older and wiser rather than play with those her age. She had been burned, and her reaction was to build a tough stance so that others would take her seriously. Her strongest skills are independence and persistence, two strengths she directly relates back to having gone through the elementary school playground roughhousing. At the same time, her experience had also formed a deep sensitivity to others’ plights, and as an entrepreneur, it led to her wanting to see the best in others. She struggled with trust, but she grew her company with advisors and her own skills.
When her clients’ needs began to grow and more districts purchased the MIDAS platform, Megan was nervous but excited to begin hiring. Her first big hire was a technical lead because she needed someone with stellar technical experience who could assume that role, freeing her to focus on expansion and growth. On paper, one of the first technical candidates to come across her desk seemed to be a perfect fit. Unfortunately, after a few short weeks, red flags started popping up—a lack of transparency, long response times, and sketchy coding. She hired someone she thought she could trust, but soon it became clear that this person’s behavior could quickly sabotage the business.
After a few nasty interactions with this employee, it was obvious that though perhaps a technical fit was there, an ethical one was not. Much to Megan’s dismay, the damage was already done. After consulting with trusted advisors, she decided to immediately cut ties with the employee. Legal action ensued, and the emotional rollercoaster of rebuilding began. It was an opportunity for Megan to look beyond the resume and the checkboxes to see the person behind the qualifications. Instead of shutting down and not hiring anyone, she used it as a learning experience to create a better hiring filter. It was an opportunity to turn an InhibitHER into an ActivateHER.
Megan learned a hard lesson. She took a few months to reevaluate what had gone wrong and then shifted MIDAS’s hiring strategy to focus on a small group of independent and technically minded individuals who shared the values of kindness and respect. She knew that connecting with this small group would make it easier to build trust and empathy and that she would be more willing to invest in the well-being of everyone on the team. While it took time for her to learn to trust her employees again, once she did, the business began to grow alongside her team. She now screens potential employees for MIDAS Education’s core values and takes these traits just as seriously as she does their technical competencies. She recognizes that who is on her team is just as important as what they can do from a technical perspective.
Because Megan is very clear about the hiring requirements for her company, she now operates with greater confidence. She takes good care of her team and invests deeply in them as professionals because she knows and cares about them. Her hiring strategy is intentional. Additionally, building an agile team aligned with the values of the business has allowed her to take risks that a larger team would not have afforded her. The trust she has with her A-team means that her leadership style is much more collaborative, and she rarely makes a judgment call without asking for their opinions. If she were to disappear tomorrow, she knows MIDAS would be in good hands.
For MIDAS Education, nailing the hiring strategy meant significant revenue growth. It meant they could pursue a riskier business strategy of only accepting a few big, government clients and several large school districts. Megan can afford to take the risk because she knows she can rely on her team to provide top-notch service to a small group of clients and follow through 100 percent of the time.
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