HR & Management

Unicorns
Published

Former Dyson MD talks finding, and retaining, unicorns

7 Mins

To bastardise a once-famous turn of phrase, growth is good. Of course it is, growth is great. But growth comes with its own challenges. Hiring talent, promoting talent, retaining talent. Filling vacuums.

Having been Dyson’s MD I do know a thing or two about vacuums. During Dyson’s phenomenal early growth we needed to recruit aggressively to keep our supply chain functioning, create leadership structures and ultimately keep millions of customers and retailers happy to ensure long-term growth. We couldn’t afford for any weak link in the chain.

The same applies to TaxCalc. Currently we need people in development, sales, quality assurance, marketing, training and support.

Recruitment is one of the fundamental building blocks of our business. The wrong hire can impact the company and culture in such a negative way. The right talent enhances and brings new ideas to help us thrive. We don’t just need more people. We need great people. And we won’t compromise on talent.

It’s a truism, but great for one company does not necessarily mean great for another. We’re essentially a software house. But we see ourselves – and this is what sets us apart – as creators of solutions. We come from creative backgrounds and believe the opportunity to differentiate ourselves comes from being creative and entrepreneurial in a relatively dry and staid competitor landscape. There is a fine balance. We require technical excellence but we need people who fit and who can contribute to the very special culture we’ve created. It’s finding the right kind of person beyond the CV.

Our head of HR Ruth Hamblen goes one step further. “We need unicorns,” as she calls the ideal hire. “Skills and experience are the easy criteria, but how do we find that TaxCalc person who will fit our quirky culture, has a passion for excellence, innovation and puts the customer at the heart of everything they do?”

As Howard Schultz, executive chairman of Starbucks, said: “When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible.”

Unicorns are ambitious, entrepreneurial, connected, smart – and yes that word again, innovative. They are self-starters who don’t need micro-managing but who understand and respect the value their colleagues bring and deliver to the company as a whole. They want to make the brilliant even better. That’s what sets them apart.

Unfortunately if you hadn’t noticed, unicorns are also notoriously elusive. We may be located on the Silicon Highway but getting the right person means we have to cast our net wide. We hunt relentlessly for them, working with our employee business networks and using handpicked recruiters who know us and the kind of unicorns we need.

When we finally have a candidate for a role – a unicorn-in-waiting so to speak – we take a very considered approach to the interview process. We aim to interview as a collective, not in the normal hierarchical way. Most likely we’ll involve the person or team that the candidate will work directly with – a manager and even someone unrelated to the role but who encapsulates the TaxCalc spirit.

I love to pop into the interviews ad hoc too. I care about the business, I care about the people, why wouldn’t I?

Keeping our unicorns is just as important as finding them. We encourage independent thinking and letting the creative juices flow. We ask our staff, do you like the person you are sitting beside? Do you have friends at work? These are essential criteria to creating a working environment that is happy and productive.

On to nurturing our unicorns or more. Never would we hold back someone who wants to develop and progress just because we haven’t enough resource in a certain department. Take our support team, one of the jewels in our crown and a key conduit between our business and our customers. Every new customer represents potential recurring revenue to the business, for life. We need all the technical support staff we can get. Yet I wouldn’t stop them moving to other departments if it meant we retained the talent we’ve already invested in.

I remain resolutely in favour of developing talent and promotion within the company, rather than letting high-potential people outgrow their positions and leave.

Being an employer brand, having a strong brand culture is also a powerful way to retain and attract our unicorns more. We’ve been developing our brand for some time now internally as well as externally. Very soon we’ll be moving to cool new offices with plenty of space for our culture to flourish.

Through recruitment, retention, talent development and culture, our aim is to become a destination employer. Attracting the right people with the right mindset. I hope in the not-too-distant future, we’ll have unicorns lining up to work for us.

This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.

Share this story

Using proven PR wisdom to compete against big brands
Is your business in a fast or slow broadband area? 
Send this to a friend