No founder needs convincing that finding and retaining the right talent is crucial to success — at every stage of the business. But the first 10 hires you make are arguably the most crucial, as they set the bar for the future.
Hire a bunch of B and C players and that’s what your company will consist of from here on in. “A Players” won’t join a team of also-rans. Worse, as Steve Jobs observed, while A Players tend to recruit other A Players, Bs have a habit of hiring Cs and so on.
Once you’ve starting hiring, the arguably harder job begins of keeping your best people engaged and motivated, which is an area that first-time founders often neglect. Just because your people have brought into the initial pitch, you now need to deliver everything that high-performing teams expect. This package includes letting go quickly of people who aren’t working out, to creating a culture that motivates A Players.
That’s why in The Valley, where competition for talent is arguably the most ferocious in the world, founders have started to employ a Head of Talent within the first 10 hires. In the UK, it’s more like when headcount reaches 35, by which time the people trajectory is already well established and any damage is very hard to undo.
At the heart of this pattern is a widespread misunderstanding of the difference between the functions of HR and Talent respectively. This is further compounded by the tendency to lump both functions into the same department in larger companies.
The rather old-fashioned term of “HR” tends to be largely administrative, managing processes such as holidays taken, payroll and benefits. In a startup, this clearly isn’t a fulltime role and can largely be efficiently outsourced.
However, at Kindred, we define Talent as the recruiting and retention of the very best employees and ensuring that they maximise their impact on the business and its objectives. This includes creating the right culture for this to happen and helping to evangelise externally about the company with the same level of impact and fluency as a founder of the business.
As you can see, managing HR and heading up Talent require a very different skill set, with dramatically different outcomes for the business. And why a Head of Talent is a crucial, early hire for successful, high-performing organisations.
We lead by example at Kindred and that’s why we have a Head of Talent as a key member of our team of six people. Michelle Coventry is a highly experienced operator, having performed this key role at many high growth companies from inside Depop, Appear Here to Marks & Spencer Digital, as well as supplying Talent into Transferwise, Lovefilm, farfetch and Betfair, to name a few.
Michelle works with our portfolio to help them establish excellence in their approach to talent and to start thinking about hiring their own Head of Talent sooner, rather than later. Ask any of our portfolio and they’ll confirm that Michelle is Kindred’s secret weapon.
But we also recognise that there’s a dearth of people capable of stepping into Head of Talent roles in the UK. That’s why Michelle is running The People Experiment over the Summer. The (free) People Experiment will fast-track 10 promising People Leaders through a series of Masterclasses, combined with mentoring by experienced operators, to produce the next generation of Talent that the UK needs.
As a founder, your team will give you one of the unfair advantages that you need to succeed. You owe it to yourself to take a professional approach, rather than bumbling along hoping for the gifted amateur’s luck, mining your own limited network.