• Justin Swart

The must-do to scale? Hire smart leaders! 4 tips for hiring your scaleup leadership team.

Product-market fit found, sales and marketing are up and running, the first rounds of venture backing have been closed. Check, check AND check. Congrats, you are growing from a startup into a scaleup!

But what’s next is a major stumbling block for every hypergrowth company. You need to recruit an impressive team that helps you cross the bridge from a culture of the “founding few” to the “grown-up” company that matches your product and ambitions.

Building a stellar team during the scale-up phase is one of the most important and intriguing leadership challenges a founder will face. And it is much harder than when you are a startup or growing at a steadier corporate pace. Reason is that following a venture funding round and with increased demand and revenue generation, scale-up companies often need to double, triple or even quadruple their headcount, in as few as 12 months. That‘s when founders realize that they need support managing this expansion and set out to hire their leadership A-team to guide and manage that change.

While no one sets out to build a B-Team intentionally the truth is, there is a stark difference between a person that excels during the startup phase and the kind of leader that is needed to build and navigate teams through hyper-growth. A startup needs generalists, who thrive in an experimental and unstructured environment. Once your business expands rapidly operational excellence starts playing an important role.

You need people with functional expertise, corporate management experience, and strong leadership skills, who can execute decisions quickly and deliver with limited resources.

While an entrepreneurial background may be desirable, more important is that they fit your unique vision and the company culture. It’s critical that leaders align with and embody your key values, as they serve as role models for all other staff.

And it gets even trickier, for your A-team you are not looking for talent with just ‘good’ performance ratings in a normal business environment, you are looking for leaders that can punch well above their weight, that can handle more than one job at a time, people who can roll with change and still deliver awesomeness. It‘s people with a growth-mindset and an „I’ve been through a few hurricanes” attitude that will be vital for growing to the next stage and beyond.

What you may have learned already is that finding experienced professionals with all those qualities is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Not only are they highly sought-after, but they have likely settled in pretty great jobs already. They are experts in top corporate positions, or they have done the scaling already and are now reaping the fruits of their labour.

That’s your top talent and the competition for them is fiercer than ever. You may not know it yet, but you have entered a David and Goliath-like war for highly qualified talent. Your Goliath? Attractive, big-name employer brands that would mint the career of any professional. Think Google, Facebook, Netflix, and the likes.

Like most founders, you are too overwhelmed to handle this crucial hiring stage. You are scaling fast, but your recruitment operations are nascent. What worked during the startup phase, does not work for scale-ups. A bumpy recruitment process can seriously hamper your attractiveness for professionals with a certain market value.

These issues are not unique to scale-ups, but what is unique, is the degree to which they face these risks. Fact is, the bigger a startup grows, the higher the stakes become. It is on leadership-level, where every decision is critical, where a role left unfilled or the cost of a bad hire can tip the scales in favor of growth or stagnation.

In this situation, quick fixes and half-baked solutions won’t cut it. You need a more strategic approach:

Become a talent magnet - Just like you need to attract customers, you need to attract the best talent. It will be nothing short of the bridge to your future. The ideal will be for top talent to come looking for you, which will be an amazing competitive advantage. But to get there you will need to invest in a sound talent promise and strategy, and corresponding employer branding.

Always be recruiting - Remember what they say, don’t go shopping hungry. As a founder, that means always be in recruitment mode. You need to build a bench of strong talent, so treat every meeting as an opportunity to spot high performers and actively build relationships even if it is unlikely you will ever hire them. It‘s their referrals that you are aiming for.

Supercharge your network - High-quality recruiters are a rare breed. The right recruiters act like outsourced talent scouts that are always on the lookout for A-team candidates for you. And the best ones will help you grow your talent bench through combining a wide catchment area with strict curation so that you will only see a handful of high-quality candidates, and only pay if you place someone. Skilled talent partners can be a real win-win.

Institutionalize hiring well - Knowing when to delegate and who to hire is part of growing from a founder to a scale-up CEO. That also means you go from making 100% of hires to being involved in less than 10%. You don‘t just need to hire well, but you need to build a hiring brand and institutionalize a system that ensures your A-team continues to select and hire top players.

It is hard to convince experienced leaders to join a 50 or 80-person scale-up, but when they do they will help you avoid the most common mistakes and hiring awesome talent will be one of their core management competencies. In essence, the experience of your leadership team will be nothing short of your bridge to the future.

Want to see how we can help you? Feel free to Contact me or Laura to partner up.

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