Human Resources

How to Avoid Startups' Biggest HR Pitfalls

How to Avoid Startups' Biggest HR Pitfalls
Image credit: dingler1109 | Flickr

There’s no exact science for keeping your founding team members around for the long term but there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of being surrounded by those same early employees further down the line.  

You know what they say about startup hires: early in, early out. While it’s true that “they” say that, I’m not actually sold on the truth of the sentiment itself. Plenty of companies navigated their growth in such a way as to keep early executives on board.

In my experience with those teams, there are a few key things management kept in mind to ensure retention, all of which can be applied to businesses of any size or industry.  

1. Consider why your early hires started.

There are plenty of reasons not to join an early-stage company: a lack of stability, insurance and regular hours, to name a few. So, as a founder or top executive, when you’re thinking about the rest of your startup founding team, you should ask yourself, “With all the reasons to not come on board, why did they actually do it?” Identify what it was that drew each early hire into your company in the first place. Once you have that figured out, make it a priority to keep that specific element in place for each individual even after you make it through the early stages of the company.

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Whatever that characteristic was must have been pretty powerful; it overpowered all the negative components and external pressures telling those individuals to take the job at the safe, well-established company instead. For some people, the early intrigue may have been the excitement and fast pace that comes with a startup. For others, it could have been the autonomy that came with their elevated position, the gratification of creating a brand new product or technology, or enjoying how their contribution affected other areas of the organization, such as partner or sales growth. If you work to ensure that initial appealing factor remains in play over time, you’ll have much better luck keeping those particular individuals on the team.

2. Consider the roles in question for your initial employees.

As much as each individual on your early team differs with regard to personalities and preferences, their roles and responsibilities do, as well. Think beyond what may have led your early hires to your company and consider what led them to their chosen profession in the first place. Engineers, for example, are often astute problem solvers driven by that need to identify the elegant, concrete solution. If you take away the opportunity to fulfill that goal as time goes on, someone with that natural inclination might take his talents elsewhere.

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Different professions attract different types of people. Focus on matching your expectations of the individual to his expectations of the job, and you’ll have a much easier time establishing an engaging dynamic that encourages him to stay on board long term.

3. Consider what will continue to motivate original team members.

Once you’ve figured out why your initial team members came on board, think about how you can keep building the appeal. While maintaining those initial intriguing characteristics is important, it’s equally critical to identify the opportunities that will add fresh interest over time. We’ve all heard that Silicon Valley urban legend of the startup that hits it so big everyone in the company becomes a millionaire but that probably won’t be the case at your company. There may be some individuals who do enjoy those benefits, but don’t bank on monetary motivation being the sole source of encouragement for your early employees. Focus instead on developing a culture that works toward collective accomplishments rather than a collective paycheck.

Most individuals that go the startup route have a strong sense of ambition and a competitive nature driving them toward that high-risk/high-reward environment. Always be looking ahead to the next goal and next benchmark for these team members to ensure the best chance of keeping them involved.

There’s no exact science for keeping your founding team members around for the long term, and there’s certainly always the risk of those individuals being the first to get bored or fed up and head for their next venture. Just keep these perspectives in mind as you develop your team, your business model and your company culture, and you’ll greatly increase your chances of being surrounded by those same early employees further down the line.  

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