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How To Create The Perfect Start-Up Team

28/07/2015 8:16 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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By Vikas Verma

Her name was Ratna and she was full of energy, bubbly, cheerful and very friendly with children. Just the kind of person we were looking for to manage the first store of our new retail venture. And what's more, she came recommended by the store manager of a kid's apparel store in the same Gurgaon mall.

We had been searching for the right person to be our store manager for a few months. We were pretty clear on the profile we were looking for and had met a number of candidates but none fit the bill. Not willing to compromise on the profile for this really crucial position, I was willing to and actually did work myself as the manager at the store during the first few weeks, along with Sandeep, our Operations Manager. So it was quite a bit of a relief when we recruited Ratna. Her first few days on the job went well and we were filled with hope.

Hire for attitude rather than aptitude

The hope though, was rather short lived. And therein, lay the biggest challenge that we (and others) faced as a start-up company -- putting together a team full of passionate and committed people who are perfectly aligned with our vision and goals.

"I can build aptitudes, skills and abilities through specific training regimens, but changing a set attitude or behaviour pattern is a much tougher nut to crack."

For us, the "Ratna" episode was a real gem of a learning opportunity. It started innocuously enough with Ratna missing a couple of days work, coming in late to work or going missing during part of the day. Then we realised that she was not managing customers' demands well and not taking initiatives to serve customer needs or improve sales. In short, she had the aptitude but was woefully short on attitude. Soon, Sandeep and I were filling in more and more at the store along with her to save our nascent relationships with our customers.

The lesson here is rather simple and obvious. I can build aptitudes, skills and abilities through specific training regimens, but changing a set attitude or behaviour pattern is a much tougher nut to crack. So, if you have a choice to make, go for attitude any day over aptitude.

Clarity in matching the role and skills

We thought we were very clear on the job profile while recruiting Ratna, but later it was clear to us that we had not detailed out the profile requirements in the depth required. This is quite often the case in a start-up environment, where HR processes such as detailed job descriptions and profile requirements are probably non-existent. In the unstructured environment of a start-up venture, the entrepreneur is in the action mode and often finds it more expedient to quickly recruit staff than set processes in place.

Also, entrepreneurs often eschew the use of psychometric and profiling tools for recruitment purposes. In the hands of experts, these tools can be quite effective in matching skills to a specific job profile. The most effective way to use these assessment tools is to list out in detail the qualities required for the position as also the activities expected of the incumbent. These two lists would also help in creating clarity for the job profile.

Multi-skilling and not just multi-tasking

A beneficial fall-out of the Ratna episode was that we had to go back to the drawing board for recruitment. Then one evening, Bhaichung walked in through the doors of the Gurgaon store. He had been referred to us by one of my colleagues from an earlier company. That, by the way, is a great way to recruit people. Not only do you end up saving substantial amounts of money on recruitment costs, you get referrals from someone from the industry who understands the profile requirement.

"[A]t times intuition works better than the most sophisticated assessment and recruitment tools, so don't discount it."

And so it was with Bhaichung. Half hour into the conversation with him and I could intuitively tell that he was our man. His steady presence at each stage of our journey bore testimony to the accuracy of my intuition that evening. Lesson learnt -- at times intuition works better than the most sophisticated assessment and recruitment tools, so don't discount it.

Bhaichung brought a rare ability to not just multi-task but also multi-skill that energised all around him and helped us meet another challenge that entrepreneurs face routinely in the start-up phase. There are always more roles and jobs to do in the organisation than you have the salary budget to accommodate. So, you had Bhaichung looking after not just the customers at the store, but also creating marketing promos, developing new product ideas, training new staff, interacting with vendors for supplies and managing events. In short, Bhaichung treats the company as his own business and brings in a rare fresh zeal of intrapreneurship.

And believe me, this kind of attitude can be quite contagious -- and spread it did to Sandeep, the Operations Manager, and even to our accountant Arun, who both began to actively seek additional work and responsibility outside their domains.

Why have employees when you can have partners?

Obvious, isn't it? And yet so many of us miss it! An employee will go home, leaving all thoughts about the company at office. But a partner will continue working and thinking about the business long after the clock has struck 5. Will an employee lie awake thinking about the ways in which to recover service levels with lapsed or dissatisfied customers? Probably not. It's a rare employee who will be "paranoid" about the business and who will therefore pursue the path to perfection relentlessly.

Bhaichung was one such employee-partner who was always focused on the health of the business. He never drew boundaries at work in regard to what was his responsibility and what was not. If something to be done was in the best interests of the company then he considered it his responsibility.

"An employee will go home, leaving all thoughts about the company at office. But a partner will continue working and thinking about the business long after the clock has struck 5."

Where did Bhaichung's sense of ownership come from? He didn't ever own a single share in the company. The source of an employee's sense of ownership is never derived from the ESOPs that he gets, necessary though they may be. This sense of ownership can only derive itself from the empowering environment that the entrepreneur is able to create within the organisation, his ability to ignite the passion and gain deep commitment of his employee-partners.

So, what does an entrepreneur have to do to find more Bhaichungs than Ratnas? Well simply put, he needs to identify and then hire for the right attitude, create HR processes and have a clear and well defined job description in place -- and keep all of that aside the moment a Bhaichung comes on board. Foster an enabling and empowering culture that allows employees to chart their path, take responsibility for scripting their progress and ownership for success of their initiatives. Executed with an optimum balance of the head and the heart, this is sure to help the entrepreneur create a passionate, committed team of Bhaichungs, who have clarity of vision and commonality of purpose and willingness to meet all challenges that an entrepreneurial start-up venture must face.

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