Why You Shouldn’t Have your Cake and Eat it

Looking to hire talent to grow your start-up? Push back on your wish list and recruit for the need in your business says Jane Kennedy, Associate Director at TalentSpark, in her latest blog.

Being a member of a start-up founding team is a lot like being in a rock band; you need people who are strong performers individually who can also work together to create the perfect output.

You need a great front man – someone who can work with the crowd (your customers and partners) to get them on side to support the vision.

Your operational lead develops the process and keeps things moving. A bit like a drummer, they set the tempo and ensure that everyone sticks to the pace and delivers together.

Your bass player is the financial role – keeping a baseline of revenue flowing through the business, whether through grants or investment. They know that cash flow is king and support the operational and technical teams to maintain harmony.

And finally, the lead guitar – a technical whizz, who can work wonders to fine tune the output to deliver something different and better!

Or maybe you are a solo artist? Working with session musicians; a founder outsourcing the other roles, whilst you develop your ideas.

Being a founder is hard work. It’s like a band spending years playing in grotty clubs and bars, hoping to be discovered or catch their big break.

Either way, you’re stretched to capacity; one person doing the job of whole teams and fighting to keep things afloat. It’s easy to become exhausted and overwhelmed. I often meet with founders who struggle to step back from the day to day business to think longer term. It’s the constant challenge of working ‘in’ your business versus working ‘on’ your business.

I often see crisis hires – “we need to find someone, who do we know?”  – instead of taking a more planned and strategic approach to really address the business issue. If you’re going to be paying someone a salary you need to be sure that they are the right person to fix the problem!

When you’re positioned in what should be your natural role it’s easy – you’re in flow, enjoying what you’re doing and making great progress – but we’re all guilty of avoiding the bits we don’t like, or aren’t very good at, until it becomes a necessity or an impending deadline.  So how can you ensure that you get to do more of what you like, especially as the business grows and develops?

In a start-up everyone is juggling a myriad of tasks, so take time to consider which of these tasks (in an ideal world!) you’d like to spend your time doing once you are a team of ten, twenty, fifty, or one hundred. Ask yourself what you want your role to be five years from now and what aspect of the company you want autonomy over. Hopefully by that stage you’ll be focused on the aspects of the company that you really enjoy and that you’re good at. Then it will be a case of back filling the gaps; the bits you don’t like and that don’t come naturally but are essential to the running and success of your business.

Sometimes it can be difficult to articulate this into a job description to help you find a suitable candidate. I recently had a conversation with a founder who was adding to his management team; he wanted to maintain a front facing, business development role and back fill operationally.

“So, what’s this new person going to be doing?” I asked. The response was simply, “I have no idea…”.

I asked the founder to make a list of everything that was on his desk that in an ideal world (five years from now!) someone else would have responsibility for. That afternoon a huge wish list came through. In a more established team these tasks would fall into two or three different roles.  Our TalentSpark team found three people who were able to complete aspects of the wish list well and sent him through the anonymised CVs.

 ‘If you had to, which one of these would you employ’?’ I asked.  He was quick to respond decisively, so now we knew the need in the business and not simply the ‘nice to haves’ – they could be filled at a later date when financials allowed.

The need comes from a lack of skills (or desire) to complete the tasks and is a reason to recruit. By skilling up your team strategically, you’re allowing yourself to further your strengths and steer yourself towards your perfect position, whether that’s Chief Executive, Chief Technical, Head of Sales or Financial Director.

You’re setting yourself and your business up for success – and ensuring you get the slice of the cake that’s right for you!