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Recruiting and retaining staff during the rocky startup phase

Real Business takes a look at proven strategies for retaining staff when the future is uncertain.
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Hiring new staff is one thing, but once you’ve found the right talent, how do go about retaining staff and ensuring they stay on at your business for as long as possible?

Not everyone is cut out to work for a young and growing company. It requires an ability to hit the ground running and take on more responsibility more quickly than you might at a large corporate firm – often with a less rewarding salary.

Employees at these kinds of businesses need to believe in the vision of the company and be be invested in the potential for growth on a personal level.

For this reason, hiring as a startup is particularly tricky. Just because someone has all the relevant qualifications and experience doesn’t necessarily mean they will be a great fit for the business.

This “culture fit” aspect of the recruitment process shouldn’t be overlooked, or a business can find itself in the midst of huge staff turnover churn. That’s a costly mistake to make.

We caught up with three recruitment experts, Beatrice Bartlay, MD and founder of 2B Interface, Claire Gray, director of Bain and Gray, and Sarah Hopkins, director of HopkinsLongworth, to find out how you can tell if someone has the right stuff to work at a startup – and retaining staff once they’ve come aboard.

The experts weigh in

How can you best identify someone who would work well in a busy startup or a business looking to grown quickly?

BB: For startups and growth businesses, candidates who have an entrepreneurial spark themselves work well. You need to find candidates who are creative, independent, use their initiative well, are determined and most of all, passionate.

SH: I would suggest candidates who show flexibility and agility – those who are happy to work to dynamic agendas with often changing priorities. You need those who have experience of rapidly-growing organisations and who have enjoyed the culture of entrepreneurship will be attractive. It is this ability to embrace and have a positive attitude to a startup opportunity that is important.

How can startups keep staff motivated even when the future is not so certain?

BB: It’s well documented that a happier and more engaged workforce is a more productive one, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to offer quirky perks. What’s essential is that you take the time to understand what motivates each individual and set them goals which work towards whatever it is that motivates them.

SH: All businesses will be going through periods of transition and a startup is no different, but clear communication with teams is crucial. Face-to-face meetings, emails and smaller seminar sessions to allow open dialogue will engage and motivate staff to understand the business goals even though they may change.

CG: We are careful to look after staff, sometimes the little things count; buying them breakfast, coffees, letting them leave early when they need to, understanding and appreciating their personal lives, keeping the balance.

Retaining staff is one thing, but how do you avoid hiring the wrong person?

BB: They only way you can avoid recruiting the wrong person is by having a thorough recruitment process in place in the first instance. You should meet the candidate more than once as you can’t always gauge someone from the first meeting.

CG: They one and only time we recruited quickly we regretted and it caused far more problems for the business than if we’d left a gap. It is always better to wait for the right person.

What do you see as red flags in a candidate when recruiting?

BB: A lack of understanding of the business shows that the candidate hasn’t done their research and therefore shows that they are lacking in passion. Most skills can be taught, so depending on the level you are recruiting for, you should be looking out for the right personalities traits, which cannot be taught. If a candidate’s personality traits don’t fit, this is a major red flag – their attitude will tell you all you need to know.

SH: We encourage a multi assessment approach to drill down with candidates experience to ensure you get to know the true individual and that they are credible and trustworthy. Any concerns about their integrity or if they show an inclination to be work shy would be a real concern for me.

CG: Candidates that don’t click with the team – it is so important to us that the team are happy and that whoever joins works well with them.

This article is part of a wider campaign called the Scale-up Hub, a section of Real Business that provides essential advice and inspiration on taking your business to the next level. It’s produced in association with webexpenses and webonboarding, a fast-growing global organisation that provides cloud-based software services that automate expenses management and streamline the employee onboarding process.

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About Author

Letitia Booty

Letitia Booty is a special projects journalist for Real Business. She has a BA in english literature from the University of East Anglia, and since graduating she has written for a variety of trade titles. Most recently, she was a reporter at SME magazine.

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