HOW TO GET TOP TALENT IN A START-UP?
By Ashish Jain

Person with an idea, entrepreneurial zeal, passion and perseverance can commence with a new venture, with or without some like-minded friends. This initial team will take the venture only a distance, beyond which a team at the CXO level is needed, complementing the skills of the founders. Most ventures, till they become celebrated ones, struggle to attract the top talent, creating a vicious circle of top talent makes the venture celebrated or vice-versa.

To understand how to attract top talent at CXO level, it is important to understand what turns them down. One of the largest studies undertaken ever, by the Gallup organization, surveying over a million employees and over 80000 managers, finds relationship with the boss being the primary reason for dissatisfaction and leaving. “People leave Managers not companies” is the key message by its authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. Other studies reveal reasons in that order, include unchallenged and boring work, financial opportunities elsewhere, not felt to be contributing to organization’s business goals, without autonomy and independence, without clear strategic direction, unfit in the organization culture with the level of politics, nepotism and policies.

This does not mean anyone fit for a big organization is fitter for a startup. Those with lack of risk taking ability will not join the startup. People without passion to create or help solve a problem will most likely stay away.

People, who are willing to join the startup, will primarily join if they distinctly see the career path in the organization in comparison to an established company. Risk may be higher and calculated, but it needs to show the prospects what it would do to their career if venture hits high. Offering equity on milestone achievement is the most resorted to. Ventures keep a fixed allocation of equity to be offered to employees partaking risks for growth.

Financial stake is not the most important factor. Career progression out of achievement of fulfilling venture’s goals, recognition in the start-up eco-system and naturally, increased market value of the person, all contributes to fan the individual’s inert feelings in making it happen. Such an environment can possibly happen only when it is transparent, plans are big and challenging, owned-up, and are given with freedom to execute. Failure is only a lesson for course correction and not for finger pointing.

To me, here are the top reasons why top talent will join a start-up

  1. Founders to have clear and big vision - Vision of the founders is an important energizer, background and intention of the founders as exhibited in the assessment discussions, is often a deal maker or breaker, as both sides assess the other. Big responsibilities offered to CXO candidates are a big attraction for them to consider the position.
  2. Transparency between founders and CXO candidates - A heart-to-heart talk is extremely important between founders and the candidate. Both sides must be frank in admitting the constraints and document them. Founders will be skeptical to take candidates, who color themselves more aligned or are referenced by the investors.
  3. Open and intuitive organization culture – Exciting and intuitive work environment, open-door policy, lean organization structure, transparency and equality in information reach, promotion of entrepreneurial instincts, tolerance to failure, incentivizing to learn, fun at work are some traits that make conducive work environment like in Google and IDEO.
  4. Financial stability in a short run – Funded with promotor or angel money, the venture should be able to sustain for a year. This assurance is important to candidates who will need time before proving themselves worth running it. 
  5. Flexibility, flexibility and flexibility – Rarely business plans work the way they were conceptualized in the beginning. Flexibility of the founders to adapt to changing situations, flexibility of the senior team in changing course and flexibility of investors to back the venture come the changes, is the key.
  6. Low ego – People from corporates, many times come with huge ego. Work at a start-up may not be conducive in massaging this high ego, either of the founders or of candidates. Humility is the key in making the work and relationship successful.
  7. Don’t pay the peanuts – Most motivated and self-initiated individuals value money not among the top 3 reasons to join a company. Though, they do not want to negotiate every now and then and must feel to be satisfied with the package they have joined at. Good talent knows its value and must get it, to deliver without distractions.

Communication of existence of such an environment to attract the right candidates is still a task, which “The best job in the world” campaign in a popular competition by Tourism Queensland, promoting Great Barrier Reef, attracted many able candidates inexpensively.

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