Hiring at Nmbrs: Recruiting with no managers

Last updated:
December 17, 2020
December 22, 2021
min read
Adrie Smith
Table of contents

You’ve probably heard of flat hierarchies, however, some organizations take this one step further with a completely flat organization- no managers, no hierarchical reporting lines. This structure can be great for companies scaling their business, but how does it work when it comes to recruiting and hiring?

Recruitee spoke to a company that embraces and embodies a no manager approach: Nmbrs. With 20 years of recruiting experience, Mariel Dommering, Chief People Officer at Nmbrs, gives us a rundown on both the opportunities and challenges of recruiting when you have no managers.

Nmbrs is a Dutch-based HR and payroll software service designed to help make your payroll more efficient, accessible, and automated. Nmbrs is a product-driven organization that now has 100 employees across three countries. They currently use Recruitee to support their hiring in a no managers environment.

Below, Mariel shares her direct insights into what it’s like recruiting into a no managers environment, building an employer brand through marketing, and promoting recruiting as a core internal competency across teams.

What has been the primary push for people growth at Nmbrs?

It seems quick, but this is a normal level of growth for us. Ever since we started we’ve always grown from 30% to 40% each year.

But obviously, when you’re growing at that rate and you’re ten people, you grow to 14 people. And when you have 60 people, you grow to 80 or 90 people. So that’s the difference. We’ve been a company with a steady growth and will continue to grow at this rate.

hiring at nmbrs with no managers

Can you tell us a little bit about the Nmbrs team and the people growth plan for this year?

We’re really a product company. What we try to do is to give a different product to the market than already exists.  The way we do this is by investing in product development. If you look at the whole company, 70% is working on product development. That part of the team consists of developers, QA, engineers, DevOps, product owners, support consultants. Those kinds of roles. They are all working on the development of the product.

Then the next big chunk is sales and marketing. Then we have a small chunk of organizational people, like HR and finance. The growth in these departments is also the same.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it but there’s a clip of a Microsoft manager who runs on stage and yells “Developers! Developers! Developers!” That’s really is how we feel right now. For every three people we hire, two of them are developers.

How are you finding the technical development candidate market?

In Portugal, we have a good name for ourselves and it has a lot to do with the fact that on our HR team both our marketer (Andreia) and our recruiter (Rita) are Portuguese. They both have experience working in the Portuguese market and they have a way of enhancing our name in the market. This helps make sure that a lot of people come our way.

In the Netherlands, we’re beginning to focus on our employer branding and we’re excited to see where it will take us.

What does your recruitment team set up look like?

In our HR team, we have one HR business partner, a marketer, a recruiter, and two personal coaches.

Because we work without managers we really feel that it’s easy for people to get lost in this environment. Especially because most people are young at Nmbrs, we use personal coaches. We provide a personal coaching session to every employee at least four times a year. We want to empower our employees and help them grow both personally and professionally. If you have doubts, if you don’t know whether you should take a certain step or talk to a certain person, you have someone that you can go to and ask. The coaches will be able to help you shape your career and help you with the steps you need to take on the way. You can discuss these things with your coach and it’s totally confidential.

If you look at the HR team, what’s clear is that we have sides to our recruitment: marketing and HR. The emphasis is really on marketing to get our name out there.

How does the no managers approach at Nmbrs reflect in your recruiting?

Well, to start without managers the whole idea of registering a vacancy is totally different. It’s usually a manager who says they need a new person on their team. We don’t have that.

Then the second difference is that you usually have a manager who has an important role in the hiring process. It’s mostly the manager who decides when someone is hired or not. We also don’t have that.We work in squads and chapters. Squads are multidisciplinary groups who are responsible for daily work. On the product side, the whole system is divided by tasks which are owned by a squad. At the beginning of the day, they decide what they’re going to work on.

Chapters are the specialist teams. All developers together are a chapter, all marketers together are a chapter. Chapters guide the strategy. So for example, if you look at the development chapter, they decide that they want to go to Azure. They look at the newest development techniques and decide if we need to implement them into our product or if we let them go, so to say.

The chapters are the spokespersons and the people we talk to when it comes to hiring. If I have a new developer, then the development chapter decides where they need to go. And they also contribute to the hiring process. Ultimately, HR consults with the chapters where and when people are placed and how many people are needed.

From the candidate perspective, our whole process has more people involved. First, we- HR- analyze your application, then we do a culture interview and a small test. Then the technical interview is taken over by people from the chapter.

Is it always the same people who are involved in the hiring process?

When a vacancy goes live, our recruitment lead composes a recruitment team for that particular vacancy. A recruitment team always consists of a person from HR, who is the logistics lead for that vacancy, two people from the chapter and one senior Nmbrs member, often one of the Chiefs (but could also be someone who has been with the company for a long time).

The HR lead makes the first selection of candidates and, in Recruitee, moves the candidates to the “possible to hire” column. Then the people from each chapter look at the applications and make a second selection. The HR lead then speaks to all of the candidates that were interesting for the hiring group.

Because we have no managers, we really feel it’s important that everyone has a say in who joins Nmbrs. This helps us keep and improve our culture and make sure that everyone enjoys working with each other. Everyone’s input is important and welcome during this process. This collaborative input during the hiring process is supported by the Recruitee system.

How do you conduct your cultural interviews?

It’s always half an hour to 45 minutes via Skype. During this first interview, we always try to have an honest and open conversation with the candidates, where we explain a bit more about our working style. After all, we feel that it’s also up to them to make a decision on whether working at Nmbrs is something for them. It’s not a one-way street. The candidates also have a say in it. From our side, we try to understand if this person would be able to work in a no-managers structure.

During this interview, we focus on three things:

First is, growth mindset. We believe in making mistakes and learning from them. Everybody fails, it’s normal. We want people to embrace this and be able to try new things even if they don’t know how to. The way you react to problems or different situations is something we try to find out during this interview.

Second, we want people who are responsible. Having no managers means more freedom but also more responsibility. Everyone needs to be able to trust their colleagues. Here, the two most important keywords are responsibility and trust. That is one of our values. We trust people to do the right thing. No one will be on top of anyone’s schedules and keep track of working hours. We hired these people for a reason. They were able to make their own choices so why should we control them? Especially because we have a no managers environment, it’s important that people feel comfortable to address their peers whenever is necessary and with any questions or suggestions they might have. We are an open company and everyone can address different people without bureaucracies or schedules but people also need to be open to do that. We want people to feel responsible for their work but always with what’s best for the team, the company and our clients in mind. Since we don’t have managers, every individual in the company, every decision each one of us does has a direct impact on the future of the company.

The last thing that we want to see in candidates is that they are authentic. Our people and our culture are both very important for us. We believe feedback and validation should come from your peers and from the people who work close to you on a daily basis. We want people to be able to be honest and open with their colleagues and share their insights and opinions. We’re developers at heart. We like to brainstorm and discuss solutions to problems as a team. So, of course, the authenticity in the cultural fit is something we truly value and enquire during interviews.

How do you operationalize creating a recruitment team for every vacancy?

It can be challenging, but let me put it this way: people need to learn to recruit. That’s not going to happen overnight. There are always going to be people who have a knack for it and people who don’t. That’s also something you have to take into consideration when you create your team.

When we choose the team, we take into consideration the role and we pick the right people to assess candidates for that specific role. It needs to be people who know how to assess if the person will fit the team, in terms of job,  culture, and skills. With this in mind, we then pick the HR lead, chapter people, a senior person of that area. This way all the people who’ll work closely with the new employee get to give their input and help with the assessment part. Again, everyone is involved because everyone is responsible for it.

We did some one-on-one courses and mentoring on recruitment. This fall we are going to do a recruitment training. So that everyone potentially involved in the recruitment will participate in the training. This will cover how to do it and what questions you should ask.

It seems like you’re moving towards having recruitment as not only an internal competency but one that’s shared across the company.

I think it’s our (HR) responsibility to get people in the door but the responsibility of our larger team to make a selection.  Obviously, the more right people we get through the door the better a selection they’ll have. That’s what we’re seeing now. Half a year ago, every person who was good, we would hire. Now, we can actually make a choice between good and better, so we have good people that we are turning down. That increases the quality of the people we get in, which is reflected in our product.

hiring at nmbrs

Now that you’re in the position of hiring not only good talent but great talent, how do you go about attracting these people?

There is a difference between Portugal and the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, we are not there yet, but in Portugal, we are getting there. The nice thing about Portugal is that we are a different type of company there.

Companies in Portugal and in The Netherlands are a little different. In The Netherlands you are starting to see more and more companies with this set of mind – more focused on employer branding, on the culture, and on the people. It’s not something that has already spread to the majority of the companies but they are starting to show more interest. Which is great! It’s something we believe to be very important.

Your employees seem to be a big contributor to your employer branding, how else are you investing or working on your employer branding in the Netherlands and in Portugal?

One of the things we have done is hire a full-time marketer for our HR department and I would recommend this to everyone. I think a lot about getting the right people in is about marketing and not even about recruitment.

Andreia (our HR marketer) is doing a lot for us, like scheduling talks for us, making sure we’re blogging, our careers site made with Recruitee looks nice and that the landing pages on social media are looking beautiful. She makes loads of content like movies that we can share. We are also very present at fairs and doing a lot with universities and schools.

We’re doing a lot on employer branding and it’s getting more focused on the right people in the roles that we are looking for: tech juniors and seniors in Portugal, tech talent in the EU, and starters in the Netherlands. Right now this is where we’re investing in and what our focus is. However, it doesn’t mean that we can’t hire outside of this group.

Are there any recruitment tactics or strategies that you would recommend to others?

Something I experienced over the years is that a lot of people have difficulties hiring someone who has the potential to become better than themselves. I also see this in peer recruitment, when you have a specialist in a particular area who is reluctant to hire another equally if not better specialist. However, in doing so, you are essentially not only blocking good hires for the company but also great colleagues for your team.

What I noticed within Nmbrs is that it is actually a lot easier to make people aware of this act when there is no hierarchical structure. What we see is that blocking therefore also happens less in a no managers environment.

What are the biggest hiring opportunities for Nmbrs and the biggest challenges?

We are building a name for ourselves in Portugal and we are now focusing on tech talent in the EU and starters in the Netherlands. We will do a lot of advertising on tech sites, join one or two fairs, and get in touch with the universities and the schools to attract starters.

I think the challenge is to know where to be and how to show that we’re different instead of just saying it. Developers are especially used to be hunted down by companies trying to recruit them. They’re tired and they’ve heard all the buzzwords. We don’t want to do that. We want them to have a good experience and feel that we are really their peers. This is the responsibility of everyone at Nmbrs. We all feel an urgency to get the best talent in.

The Recruitee takeaways:

  • Recruiting the best talent requires more than just a great recruitment team: you need to incorporate a marketing function and strong employer brand to actively attract the great talent.
  • Collaborative hiring is a robust approach to hiring, whether you have a hierarchy or no managers environment. Recruiting and hiring should be a skill that’s held by your entire team.
  • Keep your values at the forefront to make the best cultural hires (make sure you have some good questions for cultural fit in mind!) and get your team involved too.

We want to thank Mariel Dommering for her insights into the no manager approach to collaborative hiring and Andreia dos Reis for coordinating!

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