Human capital is the most important driver of growth.
Recent research indicates that more than half of firms report significant growth challenges in the area of attracting talent, topping all other factors (see opposite page). For high-growth companies, securing great people is truly a make-or-break issue.
Where should a CEO start to tackle this growth obstacle? The following steps offer a roadmap for building a company’s internal capability to draw in highly talented people—and retain them once they get there.
Hire a human resources executive
Although it’s sometimes seen as a cost center, the HR function can impact the broader business significantly. How much value is lost when a great employee quits? When a candidate declines an offer after the team spent hours interviewing them? The reason some leaders do not prioritize HR is because they have yet to see a good HR executive in action. A strong HR leader should own corporate culture, hiring success and retention rates, training, and other aspects that foster an engaged, productive workforce. HR leaders do more than pass out benefits paperwork. They should be a true partner who purposefully helps hire and retain employees.
Understand the importance of corporate ethos
Defining purpose is critical, especially for young companies. When there is little history to go on, the company’s team and mission are key differentiators. A strong culture will be a magnet to attract candidates who share common values and ambitions. Once these values are defined, figure out how to talk about them and integrate them into the company narrative. Also, determine who the cultural “ambassadors” are—the employees who love the company and what they do. Empower them by putting them forward in interviews and speaking engagements and on a committee that figures out how to instill the workplace’s essence in everyone.
Establish a hiring process and use it
No matter the size of the company, create a hiring process and stick to it. For each role being recruited, identify the requisite skills and experience and continually refer back to this guide in hiring. Do not hire on gut feeling alone, and do not hire the first person who seems excited about the company. On the flip side, make the hiring process look like that of larger and more established companies. Given how competitive the high-growth space is, make sure the company comes across as legitimate. That means keeping the first interview just that, a formal interview. If the hiring process is too casual from the start, the right candidate may be put off if they do not see a focused effort in bringing on the right team.
Let go of hiring after a certain point
Once the team starts multiplying, the course is more critical. Mis-hires are costly. Once a small business graduates to a midsized company (100-plus employees), a CEO should not make the mistake of thinking they need to talk to every single prospect. They need to approve them. At a certain point, the CEO needs to step back and delegate. Trust that the right administrator is in the seat, and let them do their job. The exceptions to this are strategic, executive hires. CEOs should be involved in those hires, as they will make or break a company.
Know what the person in the position should achieve
What milestones should this person be achieving in six months, a year, two years? Once that is clear, back into the experience and skills a candidate should have in order to meet those milestones. For more significant roles, you might want a candidate who has been there and done that. Always include soft skills. Assess the best employees. What soft skills do they have that make them good at what they do?
Make a decision
There is a careful balance between moving fast enough and going too slow. But if too much time passes before a decision is made, the best candidates will be hired by companies that don’t wait. If there is someone who meets or exceeds the requirements, has proven experience, and has completed the hiring process, then make the offer.
Complete alignment from the team rarely happens. Encourage interviewers to give input, but not “yes” or “no.” Their perspective is important and multiple opinions decrease bias, but don’t slow the process down by rejecting qualified candidates. In that same vein, if anyone is going to have the power to give input, they should be involved in the hiring process from the time the job description is written. Too often, hiring committees rule against candidates because they are not fully aware or aligned with the skills and experience required for the position.
Invest in the team
Equally important to attracting top talent is expanding the knowledge and skills of the team. In fast-growth environments, employee development cannot be an afterthought. An intentional, proactive approach to professional (and personal) development is key to low attrition. It doesn’t so much matter whether you offer discretionary funds for development opportunities or institute a formal submission process. What is important is that you offer a plethora of these opportunities and create conditions where employees can easily take advantage of them.
Lastly, the social aspect of work is, in many ways, most important, and it is too often overlooked. How available the CEO makes himself or herself to employees and how willing he or she is to show vulnerability is critical to how loyal employees will be.