HR Help for the Entrepreneur

James T. Berger headshot

James T. Berger
Senior Marketing Writer

Published August 1, 2007

In addition to the financial, legal and marketing decisions that some entrepreneurs are forced to make for the first time in their careers, there are also a slew of “people” decisions that come with the territory.

The Stanford Graduate School of Business’ Center for Entrepreneurial Studies recently held its second alumni entrepreneur’s reunion.  One of the participants was Irv Grousbeck, a consulting professor at Stanford GBS, and co-director of the entrepreneurship center.  Grousbeck co-founded Continental Cablevision, Inc. in 1964 and also is managing partner of the Boston Celtics.  At the reunion, Grousbeck chaired a discussion and introduced 10 “pearls of personnel wisdom.”  (This Wiglaf Journal article is based on information that can be found at:

Here are his 10 ideas:

  1. Follow the golden rule for bosses: “Everything is fine unless I tell you otherwise”
  2. No unspoken messages.  If you have something to say, tell him/her directly. He urged entrepreneurs to level with employees and help them understand the company’s changing needs with frequent discussions.  Be fair and financially generous and keep recruiting new executives.

  3. Work with employees before firing them
  4. If an employee is not measuring up, put him/her on your “watch list.”  Meet with him/her every two weeks for about two months.  Either there will be improvement or a documented history of performance problems.  Groubeck admits that he fails to rehabilitate three out of four employees.

  5. Pay up for the signature
  6. Make sure every employee who leaves signs a general release.  Grousbeck says this is mandatory and might require an extra several months of severance pay.

  7. Never skimp on a background check
  8. Go back 10 years.  Tell the candidate you will be digging and invite the candidate to the same about your company.  Also, have the candidate meet as many people as possible.

  9. Ask the $64,000 question, but do it delicately
  10. Rather than ask a reference to tell about a candidate’s weaknesses, ask: “If I were going to supervise this person, what suggestions would you have for me.”

  11. Pay more for A people
  12. Grousbeck recommends superior (A level) people be paid 30 percent more than B-level people.

  13. Assume that employees will find out each other’s salaries and pay accordingly
  14. “There’s more than cash at stake (when it comes to pay disparities),” Grousbeck said.  “There’s trust.  For $10,000 or $15,000, I don’t want to put my trust at risk.”

  15. Learn from performance reviews
  16. Nobody enjoys them but they need to be scheduled regularly.  One entrepreneur at the conference pointed out, “it’s amazing what comes out” (of such reviews.)

  17. Hire people who already have a job
  18. New hires have a better chance of working out if they are not between jobs.

  19. Use headhunters,  but beware of unwritten rules

Among those rules are that headhunters don’t recruit from companies in which they have placed people.  Ask headhunters whom they’ve worked with so you won’t limit your applicant pool if you hire the wrong headhunter.

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About The Author

James T. Berger headshot
James T. Berger, Senior Marketing Writer of The Wiglaf Journal, through his Northbrook-based firm, James T. Berger/Market Strategies, offers a broad range of marketing communications, research and strategic planning consulting services. In addition, he provides expert services to intellectual property attorneys in the area of trademark infringement litigation. An adjunct professor of marketing at Roosevelt University, he previously has taught at Northwestern University, DePaul University, University of Illinois at Chicago and The Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan (BA), Northwestern University (MS) and the University of Chicago (MBA). Berger is an often-published free lance business writer who has developed more than 100 published articles in the last eight years. For more information, visit or telephone him at (847) 328-9633.