How to scale your team: critical factors in startups’ hiring processes 

Raphael Tobler (CEO and co-founder of eduwo, president of the Swiss Startup Association), Andreas Goeldi  (partner at btov), Lars Mangelsdorf (co-founder and chief customer officer at Yokoy), and Guy Giuffredi (investment director at Serpentine Ventures and board member at Aare Ventures) shared their insights, tips, and tricks at Startup Days 2022 in May in Bern.

 

Plan your work, then work your plan 

Defining in detail the role profile you are looking for is crucial. For example, unclear role profiles can lead to inefficient recruiting processes; that’s because a lack of clarity can trigger a profusion of candidates Consequently, you may invite unsuitable candidates for interviews or hire someone lacking the potential your company requires.

It is, therefore, fundamental that you establish a hiring plan. Here are some practical tips on how to approach it:

1. Take your time and bring the founder team together at a table

First, consider your vision for your company and the values you want your team to represent. For example, are you more of a profitability case (organic growth/small team) or a growth case (fast growth with the help of external investors and a large team)? Once you have the answer, start building your team from there.

You might want to define a recruiting persona—a representation of your company’s ideal candidate, including all the skills, strengths, and characteristics you’re seeking—in order to get an idea about your potential new employee. Finding the person who matches all your requirements might be very challenging. However, it helps to know exactly what you are searching for, in order to achieve the perfect match, even if it takes more time than planned.

2. ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast.’—Peter Drucker

Never underestimate the power of culture; it’s a game changer. Defining and living a unique team culture is one of the most critical tasks for a startup. It’s crucial to allocate enough time for this task. Take your time to define the team’s culture as precisely as possible. The culture lived by the founders defines the future culture of the company. What is the company’s purpose? What do you want to represent as a team or brand? Write down the answers and implement them in your daily business. Make sure that you live the culture, that the team understands it, and that they stand behind it.

Once the cultural code is in place, share it on your company website and with customers. Ensure that the entire management team is aware of the cultural code and shares these values. Today, the culture and the values are increasingly important for customers and potential employees. Potential candidates can also get a sense of the team in advance.

3. Continuously communicate your cultural code and values

A company is only as good as the people behind it. Therefore, it is essential to include the entire management team in your hiring plan is essential—and it is crucial to implement the cultural code and the values in the onboarding process from the beginning. Communicate continuously and transparently how you want things to work. Each management member and each employee must know what the startup stands for and why you do what you do.

 

The hiring process 

Set up a detailed hiring sheet and a case study for the candidate. The hiring sheet should have a clear structure illustrating the hiring process. Every person involved in the hiring process can score candidates at each step. For example, you can score first impressions of the candidate’s dossier, as well as the candidate’s interview, case study performance, and overall fit in the culture. These scores will give you an objective viewpoint. Another practical option is asking your company’s best people about their strengths and values. Implement these requirements in the hiring sheet and crosscheck with the people you bring in.

The case study should screen the candidate and test his/her skills and knowledge. Always keep in mind your persona and your predefined requirements. It might also be advisable to conduct the interviews in pairs rather than alone.

Hire slow, fire fast 

As a startup, you probably go through staff changes every quarter. However, not everyone has the necessary skills or personality for the fast-changing startup environment. Try to attract the right people for this so that your staff matches your environment.

How to fire an employee

It’s tricky and uncomfortable to fire someone or even several people. The most important rule is to be fair and transparent. However, fairness does not mean that everyone should suffer equally. It means being specific about the reasons you have to let someone go. Explain the truth to your team in a way that is understandable to them.

Avoid postponing the task, particularly if you have to do it because the person is hurting the company or is toxic for the team.

How networking can help you scale your team 

Get ready and be prepared: You will need to hire employees eventually. So, whenever you meet people who could eventually fit into your team, culture, and company, keep them in mind and maintain contact. Always remember: It is better to hire too soon than too late.

 

Don’t hesitate to ask for help 

HR Manager 

At some stage, you must bring in a human resources (HR) manager to help you handle all the HR tasks. Many early-stage entrepreneurs are unsure at what stage an HR manager should come aboard. The answer is simple: no later than your first big hiring wave. It depends on your growth rate but, on average, a “big hiring wave” amounts to 30 employees. Make sure your HR manager can handle the dynamic in your startup and is flexible.

External support

Venture capitalists (VCs) can also help structure your hiring plans and get the right people at the right time. If you receive capital from a VC, take advantage of opportunities to benefit from their experience and relationships.

Sometimes it is also worth putting your ego aside and seeking active help from an external coach. A coach can guide you through a critical self-reflection and help you uncover your weaknesses. You can either work on your weaknesses and try to transform them into strengths or you can hire people who can provide strength in these areas. Again, it is worth putting your ego aside and being brave enough to hire people who can do the things you can’t. Bring in external support with experience and knowledge, and it will be a game changer!

 

Conclusion – Key Takeaways: 

  • Have a clear hiring plan and involve your management team in hiring decisions (or give everyone a veto)
  • Make sure you define your values and culture with your management team and then actively live it (organize team events to get to know each other better)
  • Define the roles very clearly and give the right responsibilities to the right people. Consider the seniority and experience required to succeed in a role (e.g., don’t give a senior sales role to a junior employee)
  • Calculate enough time for onboarding new hires and ensuring they have the time they need to ramp up their performance Consider notice periods and the time to onboard employees before they can be successful (e.g., a salesperson won’t generate revenue from day 1 of employment)
  • Hire someone too soon rather than too late
  • Listen to your gut feelings

 

Every month, we organize exclusive networking events and educational webinars. Do you want to find out more about our events? Subscribe as a member of the Swiss Startup Association and be invited to our next sessions!

 

We would like to thank Melody Corrieri for her editorial work on this article.

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