The start-up advantage: Busting the Talent myths

In reality, the Innovation start-up industry in Australia is still in its infancy stage. The government attention and support is improving, the eco-system is developing, but in the meanwhile it is very hard for start-ups to identify, attract, hire and retain talent. I often hear valid arguments, such as the global technology companies that enter Australia offer salaries that we cannot compete with and /or the demand for Tech people is growing, while the number of graduates from engineering each year remains stable. There is no doubt that while encouraging entrepreneurship, there is a need to address the growing skills gap and what is the point in opening start-ups and having the core R&D overseas? However, these are macro issues beyond the control of individual start-ups.

In addition to these macro arguments, I often hear statements from start-up founders that I consider as myths. Start-ups can hire and retain great talent based on strategic talent management. This means thinking differently not only about the product but also about talent management.

Busting the three myths:


The wrong people are attracted to work in start-ups- Only people who like risk and/ or are not experienced enough to find a well-paid job apply for jobs in start-ups.

The myth’s core- It is not a secret that the Australian culture is risk adverse. Many people prefer to work in big corporates and have a stable income that allows high quality of life.

The start-up advantage– People that cannot tolerate risk, are not a cultural match for start-ups. Better not hire them from the very beginning than waste time and money, as they will not last. People with education and limited experience- If they are a cultural match and have a good head on their shoulders, get them in and teach them the work. You don’t need everyone to be experienced anyway and you cannot afford to compete with the banks and big corporates on salaries. Start-ups offer great challenges. Employees are not boxed in a specific position description; they have a much richer environment full of life learning opportunities and they get to work with limited red tape. The people that are passionate about learning and extending themselves, while taking risks, are the ones that you want to attract. They are out there available- graduates find it hard to get employment these days. Look for them and develop them.


Young graduates are not willing to work long hours- Young Australian graduates are looking for 9 to 5 positions to allow themselves the quality of life- go to the gym, have fun outside work etc. This means that they do not fit the start-up requirements.

The myth’s core – start-up deadlines mean long hours. But these can happen in corporates as well, especially for graduate positions. Do you think that graduate accountant and lawyers work 9 to 5 or expect to drop their pens at 5 PM? They often work much more hours than in start-ups without the flexibility and other benefits that start-ups have to offer.

The start-up advantage – It is all a matter of engagement. Engaged employees will walk the extra mile without being asked to do so. Often we speak about culture and engagement, however, engagement is also related to personality. Engaged people tend to be committed in every workplace. They will not allow themselves be disengaged- they leave the company when they are not happy- and until then continue performing with 100% efforts. Those that are disengaged (and cruise while looking for other positions) tend to take this behaviour with them from one workplace to another. A lemon is a lemon. It is easier to identify lemons and screen them out of the recruitment process than to make a long-lasting lemonade from them…


It is harder to retain talent in start-ups than in big corporates-

The myth’s core – Turnover is on the rise… It is hard to keep talent, point. Large organisations struggle with talent management as well. However, start-ups do have the advantage.

The start-up advantage – True talented people are not only about pay and promotion; they are looking for challenges, extending themselves and growing. Start-ups provide a great environment for talent. Part of managing talent and workforce is about allowing them the opportunity to learn, advance, solve difficult challenges and feel achievement. Talented people are approached by recruiters every day, often offered a good 10-20% increase if they move. When I ask them if this is the case, why are you still here- the answer is often the same: “as long as I continue to learn, grow and develop- I love it here- there is no reason for me to leave.”


Another way to look at the talent myths is to remember that while start-ups live in an unstable environment, take risks and often are searching their way moving forward- their core strengths are talent and culture. Talent management is a key factor in the start-up’s success. Yes, there are challenges on the way, but with a solid workforce planning, talent management and thorough recruitment process that is looking at the cultural match and personality, start-ups gain strategic advantage.

Take talent management and culture seriously and 2017 will set you for growth!

Start-ups... How to save time and money on transactional recruitment

In my previous posts, I described the recruitment process as based on four major principles: culture based recruitment, workforce planning, transactional activities and selection. I also mentioned that many start-ups fail because they duplicate the recruitment principles of big corporations and focus their time and efforts on the transactional part of the recruitment process, which actually should take about 5% of the recruitment time for start-ups.

HR practices (and even some of those that are defined as best practices) used by big organisations were developed to address certain problems.

Start-ups face different challenges and operate in an environment that requires fast time to market. Hence, duplicating administrative practices used by corporates into start-ups is not going to lead them to win the war on talent and have the right people, with the right skills at the right time.

Once the start-up knows the cultural match and has done its workforce planning, it is time to start the transactional recruitment process. Here is how you can achieve great results with short transactional recruitment:

1.    Avoid position descriptions!

Unless your clients require PDs as part of their tender conditions, you can recruit great people without wasting your time on a document that will not be used for the recruitment.

There is nothing more annoying than hearing the sentence: “it’s not in my position description” (believe me- if I had a $ for every time I heard that …) …Start-up team members are expected to do much more than the described job. Candidates that will not take a role because they expect to get a written position description, are probably not a good fit for a start-up anyway.

If you make a decision to have position descriptions for recruitment, then you will need to continue updating them, whenever these positions are changed. And in start-ups, there are changes on regular basis. So, if you write position descriptions for all positions, you need to review and update them every quarter or two, otherwise, why put so much effort and time into a document that is used once and then forgotten?

The next comment I hear from my clients is that the recruiters always ask for a formal position description.

Well, this is not accurate. Recruiters need the same information that you will use in writing a job advert:

  • The company’s vision (what it is here for)
  • The role and how it helps to achieve the vision
  • The culture and team
  • What success looks like (for the role)
  • Main skills and experience to be successful in the role

Writing a short ad takes less time than writing a full PD and if you answer these questions, you know what you are looking for.

When you use a recruiter, find the one that will partner with you and understand the culture, the team, and the role. A true understanding cannot be based on reading a PD. For recruiters to recognise what a good match looks like, they should visit your office and meet the hiring manager (as well as the team). This will save you time on writing documents that will never be used again and provide much better results

2.    Engage with recruiters for crucial positions only

Some positions are really hard to find, hence if you do not conduct workforce planning in advance, you will find yourself recruiting in the last minute. In these cases, the best option is to engage with a recruiter. However, if you have done workforce planning and know in advance which position you are going to recruit and when the best time to start looking for, there are plenty of ways to save money and time:

  • The village approach- founders and team members should take an active role in finding new hires and attracting them to the company.
  • Founders’ networks and Advisory Board members can help in introducing talent
  • Referral partners
  • LinkedIn- a search on LinkedIn and direct approach
  • Talent Communities- the use of products, such as LiveHire, to easily engage on a daily basis with talent

3.    On the day recruitment process

Here are some tips how to have a short and efficient transactional process:

  • Resume sorting- there is no need to wait with resume sorting until a certain closing date! This is an archaic process that doesn’t match the start-up sector. Resume sorting should be done on a daily basis (preferably first thing in the morning), by the recruiting manager.
  • All good candidates should be contacted for a phone call on the same day. You want to be the first who reaches out to new talent on the market, not the one that calls when it is already too late, and the candidate has another offer…
  • Schedule interviews as soon as possible.

That’s it. If you follow these guidelines, you will shorten the time, money and effort you dedicate to the transactional process and be able to

focus on the most important part of the recruitment process – the selection of the right team members.

Recruitment is not about hiring for headcount, but about selecting those that will stay with the company, flourish and contribute way beyond what was described in the position description.

My next post will be dedicated to Selection– how to attract and select the right people. This phase should take about 80% of your focus, time and energy in the recruitment process, hence lots of tips, ideas, and relevant tactics are promised.

Want to get your start-up culture right? – Follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter to ensure you receive these short posts full of practical advice.

Want to share your thoughts about culture and start-up? I would love to hear from you.

How does culture influence start-ups? – The Cultural THREATS

Culture, culture, culture… intended or not- it is always there! So instead of ignoring it, why not proactively manage your organisational culture and ensure it provides opportunities for growth and success?

In my last post, I explained that culture can be seen as the internal threats and opportunities of organisations. Once you get the right culture, it drives great results. If start-ups get it wrong, the culture can hinder success and risk sustainability, as the window of opportunities is short.

There is no perfect culture, but there are cultural characteristics that can support or hinder success.

In this post, I would like to share with you some examples of common cultural characteristics that can jeopardise the future of your start-up.

Signs of cultural characteristics to watch for

  • The problem-solving culture– this culture is seen in start-ups that are managed by technical founders that often “fall in love” with solving technological challenges. These companies are highly focused on specific technology tasks and solving challenging problems. I have worked with teams that were proud in this culture. For people that love problem-solving, they find themselves engaged in what they are doing best and time flies fast when you are having fun. However, when not managed correctly, this culture has a critical downside. Once the focus is solely on problem-solving technology challenges, many teams “forget” the big picture (the problem the start-up was established to solve) and the clients’ needs receive a low priority. When the market and client needs receive low priority, how will the start-up grow and succeed?
  • The visionary culture– this culture is seen in start-ups that are managed by visionary and charismatic founder/s who have great ideas and focus mainly on the big picture. They run ahead fast with multiple ideas and leave a trail of “mess” behind them. The concepts are great, employees are inspired, the environment is fun, no day looks like the day before… But, in this culture we often see the lack of strategic planning and planning in general, so for the long term, this is a great risk. No planning, no results! I had some discussions about it with founders who believe that start-up shouldn’t have plans, that strategy doesn’t apply to start-ups. If you don’t have goals and don’t plan how to achieve them- where are you heading?
  • The lifestyle culture– this culture is seen when lifestyle entrepreneurs build start-ups to allow them to live the life they love and are passionate about what they do. The positive about this culture is that it includes a lot of passion, however, it sometimes also emphasises outside hobbies (such as surfing), which then can “allow” employees to be comfortable, reactive and less productive. I can assure you that start-ups with this cultural characteristic could have grown much bigger and have a larger base of happy clients, if only the focus was external and not on the life style of the founders and employees.
  • Small business mentality – is a culture that encourages thinking is small scales- establishing a business that works and not looking to stretching the company to different markets, products, sizes.
  • The conservative corporate culture– is built on power and structure, defined roles and responsibilities. In this culture, the founders manage the organisation by trying to duplicate the systems of big organisations. Employees work within their defined roles and responsibilities, there is a lack of cross team work and the management leads the strategy and product direction, often with limited feedback from the team. These start-ups tend to be less agile and engaging, with a higher employee churn.

What if I recognise one of these signs in my start-up?

Each one of the above cultural characteristics can bring the results you don’t want to see…

The first point to remember is that the start-up’s culture is built by the founders! Whether intentionally or unconsciously, the founders as role models to the start-up’s employees set the cultural tone. And as the start-up grows and goes through different stages, the culture changes (or should change) as well. So, you have control on the culture and can change it as the start-up evolves.

The second point to keep in mind is that as with everything else in life, culture is about finding the right balance. You can enjoy problem-solving, engage with brainstorming and visioning activities, but need to ensure it is balanced with market and client engagement and that your employees know what they need to achieve and are focused on that goal.

What cultural characteristics you should develop in your start-up and how to lead culture are the topics of my next two posts.

Want to get you start-up culture right? – Follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter to ensure you receive these short posts full of practical advice.

Want to share your thoughts about culture and start-up? I would love to hear from you.

How does culture influence start-ups? - The Cultural Complexity

In my previous post, I discussed the importance of proactively leading the organisational culture, rather than letting it evolve to whichever direction it takes. In this post, I would like to explain this “fluffy” concept and why it is so important for any organisation, let alone for start-ups.

what is culture?

There are many definitions of organisational culture; all are based on the same notion that the organizational culture is a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs that “glues” (integrates) people and dictates their behaviours. In specific:

  • Culture is how things are done in the organisation.
  • Culture influences both the individual’s thinking and behaviours- it promotes what is “right” in the organisation and sanctions what is “wrong”.
  • Culture is a process of “sense-making” that helps employees interpret what’s going on in the organisation and provides the basis for alignment of purpose and actions.
  • The organizational culture is influenced by the national culture it operates within.
  • The role of culture is to protect the organisation (like the immune system of the human body). As such, it sometimes can take the wrong direction and work against the company.
  • Culture is a dynamic concept; it can and should change throughout the organisational lifecycle. Management can proactively lead and shape the culture as the organisation evolves.

So, whether you are aware of your company’s culture or not, this “fluffy” concept really makes the difference between success and failure. It can support or hinder the implementation of new initiatives, the achievement of company goals and hence its growth.

Why is culture important?

Organisations often like to conduct SWOT analysis. They analyse the internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats. Applying this same concept to culture provides an understanding of why culture is so important and shouldn’t be left unmanaged. While the organisational culture cannot directly influence external opportunities and threats, it does impact how the team reacts to and manages interactions with the external environment as well as how it operates internally.

Organisational culture shapes interactions with the external environment:

  • The culture influences the brand image of the organization.
  • The culture affects the ability of the company to compete in the market.
  • Attitudes and behaviors towards stakeholders- what employees consider being appropriate behaviors and how they interact with clients, suppliers, investors and other stakeholders stem from the organisational culture.
  • The capacity and receptiveness to change and adapt to the external environment are determined by the culture.

The way things are done internally influence performance and productivity:

  • A healthy culture encourages employees to stay motivated, engaged and be loyal. It inspires initiatives, innovation, collaboration and sets everyone to work towards the same goals.
  • The culture guides decision making and people performance across all the organisational levels.
  • How people interact with each other is an important part of the culture.
  • How individuals and teams deal with deadlines, mistakes, challenges and the day to day work is set by the culture.
  • The speed and efficiency with which tasks get done are also influenced by the culture.

In other words, culture can be seen as the internal threats and opportunities of organisations.

Once you get the right culture, it drives great results. If start-ups get it wrong, the culture can hinder success and risk sustainability, as the window of opportunities is short.

There is no perfect culture, but there are cultural characteristics that can support or hinder success. In the next post, I will focus on cultural threats in start-ups and provide practical examples of what is “bad” or “wrong” culture? What could it lead to? What are the signs to watch for?

Following in this series of post I will focus on the opportunities cultures provide and how to positively build your culture and constantly change it to enable growth and success.

Want to get you start-up culture right? – Follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter to ensure you receive these short posts full of practical advice.

Want to share your thoughts about culture and start-up? I would love to hear from you.


How does culture influence start-ups

Culture is one of the two most used words in exit interviews. It is also a common reason behind failures of companies of all sizes. However, it feels like although everyone knows what culture is, when it comes to building a culture that supports organisational growth, many believe that this “fluffy” concept just evolves as the start-up grows. This is a wrong and risky assumption. Culture is a product of leadership and management; it can and should be proactively lead. It doesn’t cost money, nor requires resources, yet this does not mean cultures should be ignored.

The risks of getting culture wrong are too big! For every start-up, the window of opportunity is too small to ignore culture and let it evolves to whichever direction it takes. By not taking an active part in leading your start-up’s culture, you are building the path for its failure.

The role of culture in start-ups is so important and yet, so heavily misunderstood that I have decided to dedicate a series of posts for this concept. Over the next few weeks, I will cover the following topics, all with practical advice for start-ups:

  • Cultural complexity– what is culture? Why is culture important? What types of cultures evolve in start-ups?
  • Cultural threats– what is “bad” or “wrong” culture? What it could lead to? What are the signs to watch for?
  • The opportunities– What types of culture support start-ups success and growth? What opportunities cultures generate?
  • Building the culture of your start-up– How to proactively design, build and maintain the culture of your start-up.
  • When the culture is wrong– How to identify the signs that the culture of your start-up doesn’t support its success and growth? What should you do when the culture is wrong?

Want to get you start-up culture right? – Follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter to ensure you receive these short posts full of practical advice.

Want to share your thoughts about culture and start-up? I would love to hear from you.