Transparency is key: Startup leaders need to get real during recruitment

- August 11, 2022 3 MIN READ

Startup leaders being real right from the beginning benefits both the candidates and the company, writes Ben Lipschitz.

Working in a startup or high-growth business is a whole different ball game to your big corporations. Expectations can sometimes be higher, there’s nowhere to hide in a small team, teamwork and cohesion are essential, and the highs and lows of business are more intense and unpredictable.

Communicating this to new or current staff falls on the shoulders of the CEOs, founders and leaders. Failing to be transparent about these realities can lead to disillusioned staff and resignations.

As a business leader, you might have a smart business plan and a deep understanding of the pressure of this environment – the pace at which things move, the sense of urgency, the attention to detail required to be successful and the need to be adaptable and flexible. But you can’t do it all. So it’s imperative to assemble a crack team capable of implementing your vision and bringing fresh ideas to the table.

Building that team is challenging, the talent shortage we’re currently experiencing is driving a mercenary-style culture where the best people are being head-hunted and offered competitive salaries.

So how can a founder or CEO stop the business they’re trying to build from turning into a revolving door of departures and arrivals that cripples creativity and kills momentum?

Be real during recruitment

For me, building and retaining a talented team and a strong culture starts in our interviews with prospective employees. We always aim to create an honest two-way dialogue that outlines realistic expectations and sets the basis for how we’ll go forward.

I’ve never been one to sugar-coat reality, but it’s still a challenge to tell someone you’re trying to recruit the unvarnished truth about what it’s going to be like to work in a startup. That it’s probably going to challenge them like never before. That the goalposts are going to continuously shift.  That they’re going to need to get dirty in the trenches one minute, or step up the next. That in a small, high-performance team there’s nowhere to hide, so they’ll need to own their failures as well as their successes.

When you’re up-front about what it’s really going to be like, you quickly see the ones who are hungry to learn, eager to grow and willing to lean into the challenge.

Balance the rough with the smooth

You may not be able to match the salary of a big tech multinational, so be honest with staff about what they are going to get out of growing with your startup.

Map out how their career and salary can progress, and explain that the harder they work the more successful the business will be. Business growth will create more opportunities for everyone to grow and find their place. Work ethic and skills go a long way in building future success and personal fulfillment, so explaining how valuable this is can actively slow the revolving door of staff.

Don’t expect anyone to sign over their entire career to your business. After a certain time they may move on, so do everything you can to teach them how to succeed in their future career. Including what it takes to build and run a successful business.

Recruitment is just the start

This approach has been very successful in not only attracting some great talent to FoodByUs, but also in making sure unsuitable candidates leave the hiring process at an early stage.

But getting the right people through the door is one thing, building a strong and cohesive team is another. If the day-to-day reality doesn’t match the promises you made in the preliminaries, the revolving door starts to spin again and everything you’re working towards grinds to a halt while you go back out to market to plug the gaps. That’s why it’s so important for startup leaders to get real right from the beginning.

For us, that means creating a culture that empowers and supports every team member daily. It’s easy to forget that appreciation and respect go a long way towards building loyalty.

Cohesion is another big target and one that needs a lot of attention. Carving out time from everyone’s hectic schedules for team bonding opportunities is important. It also requires leaders to check in regularly with staff and to empathise, listen and understand their needs. Keeping the team unified relies on every individual feeling comfortable and empowered in their role.

In my experience, attempting to buy respect and loyalty is usually a bad investment. But with honesty, care and support that starts from day one, they can certainly be earned.

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Now read this:

How to build a strong organisational culture – and why you must do it now