5 ways to hire quality leadership for your start-up

Founding and running a start-up is incredibly rewarding, but no one would argue that it’s easy. Employees and your investors alike look to you as the decision-maker and tactician. Hiring the right leadership is usually urgent and high-stakes at the same time.

When your start-up is scaling up, time is of the essence and the pressure is mounting, it’s tempting to make fast recruitment decisions. But is that a sustainable approach? Here’s how to better manage the five challenges that cause founders to hire for speed and how to hire for quality instead:​


quality leadership

Growth or problem-solving pressure from investors

What’s the challenge?

You know your business intimately, but investors are looking from the outside in. They want to jump on potential issues as soon as they spot them — perhaps more urgently than you think is necessary. And growth can’t come quickly enough for many investors either.

This can pressure founders to make a hire, any hire, to help keep the peace. A knee-jerk placement risks under-delivering on the results you and your investors are after, both immediately and in the long term. 

What are the potential solutions?

  • Give investors an active role in the hiring process. The pressure to hire quickly usually stems from a lack of understanding or appreciation of what top quality recruitment requires. By including your investors in the selection process, you give them a front row seat to the effort and energy involved — you also help them feel valued and heard. Ask the panel: could this candidate provide value today and in the future? Or are we rushing to a decision?
  • Work from a shortlist of candidates. If investors are too busy to be involved at every step of the process, you can share a shortlist of, say, five target candidates you want them to consider. Whether this shortlist results in a face-to-face meeting, or just a call, you’ll all have a better sense of who is out there, and who would make the most optimal hire.
  • Lean on metrics and measurements. A founder’s intuition can be clouded when hiring at speed. But standardized tests, such as the PI (Predictive Index) test, can help justify decisions and narrow down a list of likely candidates. The PI test, in particular, can identify recruits who’ll inspire the team, be strong team players, and provide stability as time goes on — all reassuring qualities when hiring under pressure.

Pressure from a competitor to deliver fast market expansion​

What’s the challenge?

Your company’s position in the marketplace can be challenged overnight. And when competitors make big moves, you need to respond — and ideally, overtake — or risk falling behind.

Perhaps you need to open a new department or there’s a pressing need to double a service or team. Filling seats won’t be enough either way. Your success relies on getting the right people through the door.

What are the potential solutions?

  • Hire a freelancer. A short-term hire may be a workable solution, depending on the role in question. Freelancers can be hired and put to work quickly, creating space for you to consider the long-term strategy instead.
  • Discuss immediate performance goals. Challenge candidates on what they hope to achieve in their first month, quarter, and half-year. The best interviewees will exhibit a mix of operational and strategic thinking — exhibiting their understanding of what your business needs and how they can help deliver it.
  • Communicate how the role will evolve over time. Job specs can change quickly in an evolving business, and your hiring team needs to feel confident the candidate is able to adapt at the same rate. M1, Q1, and H1 targets are helpful here too, but communicate the need for flexibility and adaptability, should those targets change.

Team members on the brink of burnout

What’s the challenge?

Many startups are close-knit communities, and those who’ve been with you from day one are often fiercely loyal. 

When discretionary effort has always been the status quo, founders may not realize that their valued talent is close to burning out. But not acknowledging burnout is way riskier than tackling it head-on. And in your attempts to alleviate a stressed-out team, you may favor applicant availability over suitability — hiring for speed, instead of quality.

What are the potential solutions?

  • Harness team insight throughout the selection process. Your current employees are best placed to tell you what support they need and how the job role evolves over time. Ask them to think about both the short and long-term effects of hiring new talent, and who from your candidate pool represents the greatest potential.
  • Use collective problem solving to uncover temporary solutions. Staff nearing burnout have probably spent a lot of time thinking “If only I could…”. Explore alternative solutions with employees — e.g. how excessive workload can be reorganized and reprioritized — should it come to that.

An urgent problem that needs an urgent recruitment solution

What’s the challenge?

Some organizational issues really are make-or-break. When confronted with this situation, a fight or flight response may kick in. You may feel compelled to hire someone who’ll solve the issue in question, without considering the longer-term consequences of your hire — culturally, financially, or otherwise.

What are the potential solutions?

Consider outsourcing. Not every recruitment issue is solved by hiring in-house. Ask yourself: is this a niche need that’s required on an on-going basis? Then perhaps a specialist or consultant would fit the bill. If it’s a niche need that’s only required temporarily, you can defer to the freelancer option once again.

Lack of time or energy for quality recruitment

What’s the challenge?

Every founder has a bandwidth limit — whether they or other people, realize it or not. Recruitment may fall towards the end of a very long and demanding list of responsibilities; something to tick off quickly and easily, by selecting the ‘safest’ option.

A “safe” hire may be someone you know, a personal recommendation, or someone who’s good at “talking the talk” during an interview. This may result in a satisfactory hire, but will they be genuinely outstanding and help propel your business forward? Can they “walk the walk”? Perhaps not. Chances are, you end up with the best ‘available’ talent, not the best possible talent.

What are the potential solutions?

Call on the experts. Not all recruitment needs to be managed from within the organization — talent and executive search experts exist to step in when founders and hiring managers cannot. Together, you can work to find the best solution to any, and all, urgent recruitment needs.

Speed doesn’t have to mean compromise

No start-up is immune to the five challenges we’ve shared above. And as your business grows, your leadership recruitment challenges will likely get more complex too.

Even when the clock is ticking, try to avoid hasty recruitment decisions that act as bandaids. Take a step back and consider all options, including bringing other key stakeholders and experts into the decision-making process. Read also our early-stage start-up hiring tipps.

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