As an executive recruiter, I work with a lot of start ups and high growth companies that are challenged in finding the right talent to scale their business. Part of the issue is that there is a gap in preparing startup founders and teams for the people side of scaling their businesses. Founders can narrow this gap by focusing on a few key considerations well before they need to start scaling their teams.
#1 Plan Ahead
At the beginning, the team might be the founder, co-founders and maybe a couple of people from their networks – friends, old co-workers, classmates, etc. They are focused on building the product, understanding the market, getting customers. Hiring isn’t a need or priority, so planning for the growth on the people side is put on the backburner.
The problem with this is that, when the need to hire does arise, the company is often in crisis mode. They’ve had some success, need to scale quickly and haven’t prepared adequately for what that looks like. They don’t have time to understand and define key roles, they are often over their heads in terms of their knowledge of what these positions actually do, and they don’t have time to learn how to hire.
Creating a talent roadmap early is key to avoiding this hiring crisis. The roadmap can be flexible based on how the business evolves, but just like scenario planning for funding or customer acquisition, it is important to look at different scenarios for hiring. For example, think about the stages at which the company might need to bring in a COO, a Director of HR or a Customer Service Manager; understand what these roles look like in their industry, for a company of their size and pace, for the culture that they are trying to build.
#2 Learn HOW to hire
Everyone thinks they are, or they should be, naturally be good at hiring. People tend to believe that they’ll “know it when they see it” or that they can “tell in the first 10 minutes” if someone is going to be a fit. The reality is that these gut reactions are not predictive of successful hires and are based more on personal chemistry than actual assessment of a candidate’s skills and competencies for the role.
In a small company, chemistry is really important, and each hire can have a huge effect on the organization. But that’s why it is critical to assess candidates on more than a resume and whether you want to get a beer with them. Startups need to create a hiring process that allows them to assess for functional skills, culture contribution and critical competencies like team development, communication and learning agility.
To do this, they need to have rigor around developing job descriptions that are accurate and specific, prioritizing the must-haves for the role and understanding what skills are trainable. They need to have a hiring process that is consistent and evaluates the candidate for skills and competencies that make a person successful in their company. And they need to the ability to gather this information during the hiring process, synthesize the feedback from the stakeholders and make a decision at the right pace.
#3 Get Real Help
I see a lot of cases where a startup has decided it is time to hire a VP of Sales (or other key position), and ask their network if they know “a good VP of Sales.” They churn through the recommendations their network or investors send them and come up empty handed because they haven’t been specific in their ask nor targeted in their approach. I also hear startup “experts” tell founders that they should always be networking, that their job is to be talent scouts. But again, there is no plan or goal other than to find “great talent.” In early days, this can still be effective, because you are often looking for utility players that can cover a lot of areas, so you just need people that are bright, passionate and versatile.
But as the company grows, the roles get more specialized and your needs to get more specific. A founder might be an amazing developer or a genius marketer, but they might be terrible at creating a talent roadmap, developing specific job descriptions and identifying the core competencies that define success in their organization. And asking for help from other people that don’t have that skill set is a waste of time.
A better approach is to bring in functional consultants to fill gaps and help you define what you need in specific areas. For example, you might work with a supply chain consultant to build your talent roadmap for that area of the business. Alternatively, you can bring in someone with expertise in organizational development and talent acquisition to define the talent roadmap across the organization and coach you and your team on the skills needed to become good at attracting and hiring talent as you grow.