In the face of high volatility, instability, uncertainty and dynamism created by the accelerated advent of technology, the nature, skills and attributes of the employees decide if the organization will thrive, survive or shutdown. And this is true for organizations of all kinds, irrespective of nature, size, scale and industry in which it operates. So, organizations and their HR departments must invest time, effort and resources in hiring, engaging and retaining the right kind of talent. This is especially indispensable and critical for startups where acquiring and retaining the right talent is a much more pronounced need.
The core of startups is disrupting rather than fitting in – the reverse of the core values that most stability-oriented traditional organizations work with. So, startups naturally seek employees with similar growth-orientation and the drive to innovate, experiment and take risks. The work culture too varies starkly in startups where they do not follow the top-down approach of traditional organizations and startups are much flatter in the power structure. This means the only way for employees to thrive and shine is to take initiative and perform rather than through connections in the office or seniority.
When startups do not hire right, the penalty they face for it is hefty – ranging from slow growth rate to shutting down. Hiring the wrong talent is one of the top reasons for startups shutting down.
Since startups are much smaller in size, the new hires influence the culture and therefore, make or break the organization, unlike larger organizations which already have a culture and core values to which the new hires must fit in. And employees moving in and out does not greatly affect the larger organizations as much as it affects startups. So, hiring the right talent is critical for startups.
Having discussed how hiring for startups is different and why hiring right is so critical for startups, let us now look at the set of skills that startup entrepreneurs expect from their employees.
Of course, there is a need for employees of startups (like all other organizations) to have domain-oriented skills. However, in today’s disruptive world in which startups operate, there is a pronounced need for skills other than subject-matter/ domain expertise. Below are these other skills that startup entrepreneurs expect from their employees – current and prospective.
Entrepreneurship is not only about starting and running successful business ventures, even though it is an important aspect; entrepreneurship is about creative problem-solving, being enterprising and resourceful, turning ideas into actions and making the most of frugal resources. Startups are about all of this and therefore, startup entrepreneurs actively seek entrepreneurial skills and competence from their employees. Having entrepreneurial competence will ensure that:
Startups entrepreneurs, as mentioned earlier, actively seek employees who are doers/ go-getters and initiative takers; that is, employees should not wait around for instructions to be given to them or tasks to be delegated on a daily basis. They seek employees who willingly take on multiple tasks and don several hats, taking responsibility for each of these and showing high levels of accountability. They actively solve problems and make well-thought decisions. Considering leadership skills enshrine all these, startup entrepreneurs expect leadership skills in their employees. (It is important to note that leadership is not limited to taking charge of people or supervising teammates/ subordinates).
Startup entrepreneurs seek to create a pipeline of leaders outside the ranks of CEOs and CTOs who will create a positive growth force within the organization and become the influencers of organizational culture in the long run.
Effective communication skills are critical for organizations of all kinds. However, startups, with their smaller teams and frugal resources, cannot afford siloed functioning and need information and critical insights to flow freely within the organization. Listening skills, ability to actively ask questions, ability to give and take constructive feedback and writing skills are all important parts of effective communication and are important skills for startup employees to have.
Startups operate in the VUCA world of technology-led disruptions. They leverage technological advancements to enable efficiency and effectiveness in their functioning as much as in their products/ services/ solutions. With remote work and the gig economy coming into play, startups can hire talent from across the globe with the help of technology. So, startup entrepreneurs expect their employees to be tech-savvy and to possess the ability to adapt quickly to changing technology.
Startup entrepreneurs expect their employees to possess spot-on marketing skills, not just for the product but the organization and the employer brand. They also expect employees to have the ability to clearly pitch the organization’s ideas to potential investors at every opportunity possible.
Startups, especially those in the early stages, never miss opportunities to network with potential investors, mentors, angels, etc. and build contacts that will help them scale up and grow. Therefore, startup entrepreneurs expect their employees to have top-notch networking skills as well.
The last thing startups want is office politics and frictions to creep in between employees. Startup entrepreneurs expect their employees to have strong interpersonal skills. They expect their employees to be team players willing to collaborate and cooperate. They expect good work ethic and the ability to adapt and fit into the workplace culture.
The accelerated development of technology has made change the only constant in today’s world. In the years to come, the skill set requirements are expected to change 100% of what they are today with some skills becoming redundant, some being redefined and some new ones coming about. So, apart from the above-mentioned skills, startups entrepreneurs expect their employees to have the willingness to learn continuously as an important trait.
Overall, the skillset expectations of startup entrepreneurs underscore that they are looking to hire and retain employees who will be responsible for themselves and those who can be trusted.