Every startup’s dream is having the chance to grow at light speed. It means that you’re doing something right, that your investors can see your vision and are willing to support you, and you get to go all-in on your product or service. What many businesses realize late in the game, however, is that the reality of growing a startup can also be harsh and grueling. Why? Well, a number of reasons, but chief among them is the difficulty of making sure that the growth of your team keeps pace with the growth of your operations.
If you’re a tech startup, there’s little doubt that you’ll need more coding talent, and very likely it'll be time to staff out some roles that you’ve been doing yourself, whether that’s in HR, communications, or any other field. Of course, at the same time, you’ve got to keep your existing employees happy, because without them you’ll have even more hiring to do. If all of this sounds daunting, don’t worry: we’ve got a few tips to get you started.
1. Maintain Your Standards
At a lot of growing businesses, your talent needs can seem so severe that you’re tempted to lower standards and hire the first decent applicants who come along. Don’t. It may seem like a temporary solution, but in the long run you’ll be stuck with a lot of folks who simply aren’t cut out to help you grow in the long term. They say that A-level talent attracts A-level talent, and B-level talent attracts C-level talent. Whether that’s because less qualified workers actively seek to hire those who are less talented than themselves (in order to shore up their own positions) or simply that that there isn’t even enough B-level talent to go around, the effect is the same: over time, your team gets worse instead of better. To wit, having the wrong team is the the third most common reason that startups fail (source). Consider the long term needs of the company, even when it seems painful to do so, by making sure you have the right team.
2. Establish a Pipeline
Pursuant to keeping your standards up, you need to put yourself in a position where you can attract, convert, interview, and hire strong candidates relatively quickly, one of your top priorities should be establishing a talent pipeline. This might seem like vague advice, but in point of fact it’s fairly concrete. After all, a pipeline isn’t just the people in your candidate pool—it’s the mechanisms you use to get them there. First of all, make sure that you have a way of keeping in touch with candidates who are interested in your company but may not be ready to apply yet—this might be a recruitment-centric email newsletter or something else of that ilk. Next, make sure that there are numerous places on your website where people can actually sign up for this newsletter—and not just on your website, but also on your career-centric social media pages. This way, you’re already building up a concrete backlog of interested candidates even before you make your next hiring push.
3. Define Your Employer Brand and EVP
Here you might thinking, “that’s all well and good, but why would someone who’s never heard of my company enter my talent pipeline?” The short answer is that they probably wouldn’t—but it’s your job to make sure that they’ve heard of you. More than that, it’s your job to make sure that when they do encounter your company for the first time, they immediately think of it as a potential employment destination. How do you make that happen? By presenting a clearly defined employer brand. Creating a strong employer brand is no mean feat, to be sure, but as a starting point you might sketch your employee value proposition (EVP). This includes all of the monetary and non-monetary ways that you provide value to your employees, including things like learning opportunities, a strong company culture, and the chance to make a difference in one’s field. As a fast-growing startup, you’re most likely offering new hires a chance to be involved in something cool at an early stage, the chance to work relatively autonomously, and maybe the chance of a big payoff down the road. All of these elements can inform your employer brand, which you can then use to get people excited and move them into your talent pipeline.
4. Look Within
So far, we’ve talked mostly about efficient strategies for hiring, but it’s important to remember that talent management isn’t just about getting people aboard. Rather, it’s about keeping your current talent happy and working to develop your existing resources so that they can improve their skills and potentially take on new roles. We’re not suggesting that every role you need to hire can be filled through internal promotions, far from it. But we are suggesting that whatever employer brand narrative and EVP you’re trotting out, make sure that you’re really providing those things and creating a positive work environment for your existing staff. A mass exodus of talent will only give you more work to do on the talent front.
5. Plan for the Company You Want, Not the Company You Have
So far we’ve pretty much let this question lie, but it’s worth bringing up now: what positions are you trying to hire for? One of the most difficult talent management tasks that fast-growing companies find themselves in is to determine what roles to prioritize. How much longer can you get by with just one HR person? Is your sales team big enough to drive continued growth? Is it time to hire a real marketing team? The answers to these questions will vary by company, but a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself what you want your business to look in a year, in two years, and in five years. This will tell you a lot about the composition of your ideal team. As a bonus, the more effectively you match your hiring to your ideal vision of your company, the happier your existing team will be. After all, most people will only be content to do someone else’s job for so long.
6. Let Technology Empower People
We’re pretty confident in the quality of these tips, but you might reasonably object that it sounds like a lot of work, especially for a company that’s already understaffed. This is where technology, deployed in a smart, considered way, can make a big difference. For instance, if you’re able to automate some or all of your employer branding activities, you can reduce the time it takes you to advertise jobs and spread your brand message. Likewise, if you can automate some of the formal elements of your pipeline, you can save recruiters time in the form of easier lead tracking and more obvious conversion strategies. Workflows like these won’t let you off the hook for more intellectual tasks like outlining the next five years of business growth—but they might make tasks like that feel a little more manageable by taking other items off your plate.