Recruitment specialist Simon Leich from CS Partners identifies the common pitfalls in head-hunting and what start-ups can do to avoid them

Chief executives and founders of early-stage agrifood companies have a tendency to underestimate the challenge and impact of mis-hiring. In reality, making the wrong hire can cost up to 10 times the annual compensation of an individual and cause huge delays in hitting milestones

Hiring the right people is therefore critical for the successful growth of your organisation. Let’s explore some of the most common pitfalls early-stage chief executives fall into when hiring new talent and provide some advice on how to avoid them.

1. Not prioritising recruitment

We know you’re managing a huge range of different priorities at once. From investor relations to commercialisation, it’s no wonder hiring is often pushed to the bottom of your to-do list.

But getting your hiring right deserves to take priority, especially when you’re just getting your business off the ground.

We often see hiring managers delegating ownership of the process because they’re so busy, but this often leads to confusion and – invariably – a disappointing outcome. If the time isn’t invested upfront on executing a defined talent strategy, attracting, assessing, and engaging the best talent for your company becomes significantly more challenging.

2. Not knowing what good looks like

In early-stage companies, chief executives are often recruiting for positions they have little experience in.

This often leads to them overlooking what success will look like in the role – what the performance goals will be six months, a year, three years into the job. On top of that, there’s rarely a framework in place for measuring this success.

Chief executives will often write job briefs outlining a very basic background of the ideal individual and give a vague description for what the successful applicant will be responsible. But clarity is crucial.

If you’re not clear on what success looks like from the start, hiring the right person becomes significantly more difficult.

Failure to define and document key performance objectives inevitably results in ambiguity between the chief executive, management team, and the board. This lack of coordination can lead to negative hiring outcomes.

3. Being too focussed on a narrow set of skills

Being too prescriptive about specific technical and product skills is a common pitfall amongst early-stage chief executives. They’ll often be too narrow-minded, ignoring or failing to properly consider the potential for the candidate to grow and develop their capabilities over time.

Bear in mind that when specific experience and skills are required immediately, you can always bring it in – even at a freelance level.

4. Failing to assess a candidate’s cultural fit

When scaling and commercialising, there’s a need to bring in industry expertise. But identifying individuals that can suitably make the transition from the corporate world to the startup world can be a challenge.

There’s a huge difference between working for an established company – where access to funding and resources isn’t an issue – and working for a smaller company in a resource-light environment. In fact, the two worlds couldn’t be more different.

Yet chief executives often prioritise experience over cultural fit. They’ll look at a candidate’s background and assume they know certain things or are capable of adapting to the environment. In doing so, they’ll fail to consider their values, behaviours, and preferred ways of working.

Understanding these values and behaviours is vital to ensure you’re hiring people with the right mindset to handle the culture of a startup.

5. Having a poorly defined interview process

Some early-stage companies pride themselves on being disorganised. They believe it allows them to be flexible, adaptable, and ride out whatever evolution needs to happen for success.

However, this lack of structure can leak into the interview process – and hiring needs organisation to be consistent.

We often see chief executives task a number of their employees with interviewing different candidates from the shortlist, but they won’t give them any direction in terms of the subject matter of the interview or what information they need to acquire from the candidate.

When the team doesn’t work in a coordinated and strategic fashion, interviews aren’t consistent and the chief executive can never be sure the hire is the best fit.

6. Lacking candidate engagement

Poor engagement with candidates during the recruitment process inevitably leads to hiring failure.

Interviews can be a lengthy learning process between the candidate and the company. It’s hard to keep candidates engaged and excited throughout, and easy for candidates to lose interest and accept another role if there’s a lack of clear and consistent feedback.

Start-ups often neglect candidates with whom they’ve engaged but are no longer of interest. This reflects badly on the company’s reputation and can tarnish your employer brand.

7. Non-competetive compensation

For start-ups, there’s sometimes a misunderstanding of how important financial compensation is as a part of a candidate’s decision-making process. The challenge of mastering offer management is in truly understanding what the individual’s needs are and what motivates them.

Some people already have a level of financial security and will be prepared to accept more equity, but others won’t be able to accept the job without a competitive salary offer.

Chief executives that under-budget positions can’t expect to bring the best talent on board.

Ensure you don’t fall into these pitfalls

Ultimately, the team you build will shape the culture of your company. Finding the best possible candidates will take time, investment, and a clear vision of what you’re looking for.

Now you know the common mistakes agrifood start-ups make when hiring their teams, download our free guide to learn an easy-to-follow framework for getting it right.

About the author

Simon Leich
Simon Leich is passionate about helping mission-driven companies achieve their goals in creating a healthier world. He has completed hundreds of searches over a 20-year career in recruitment.
Leich set up CS Partners from scratch in 2014 after making the decision to move sectors, and work in an area that he felt an emotional connection with.
Working across the nutrition and agrifood technology value chain, Leich has an extensive network of senior management and board contacts who recognise his understanding and knowledge of the industry, along with his passion for delivering outstanding talent solutions.
CS Partners connects talent for a healthier world. The company works with mission-driven organisations disrupting markets across the agrifood technology and life science sectors.

Date published: 9 February 2021

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