Anyone who has ever employed staff will nurture a nugget of doubt when signing their contract. Have I found the right person? Will they deliver what my company needs, when it is needed? Do they have the right skills and attitude to make my company successful? Interviewing a candidate can only reveal so much, and I find myself asking these questions all the time.
Whether you are starting a new business, scaling up a growing company or you are a CEO of a large, successful, international corporation, you are constantly thinking of a number of strategic items, be it product innovation, marketing or global expansion, but one thing that stands between you and your aspirations, is your people. Your people are the biggest influencing factor on future success. “How do I attract the very best talent?”, is the biggest question most entrepreneurs will ask. Some have solved it, many try very hard, but they don’t necessarily achieve real success because finding top talent globally is not easy. Even if you identify the right people and attract them to your business, how do you retain them, motivate them and drive innovation and a growth culture within your organisation? There are a number of factors that are required to come together to be really successful, but for now we will focus on finding the right people.
In this blog I will describe my personal experiences over the last 25 years, in terms of leadership development, finding the right people, the challenges we faced and how we overcame them at my current company Mitra Innovation, and where we are currently on that journey.
I’d like to start by referencing a book by Jim Collins called Good to Great, which is one of the best books I have read. Jim Collins says that you must get the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus at an early stage. You need the right talent in the organisation to drive the business forward, if you have the wrong people in the leadership driving seats, your business will stagnate. We have seen this at Mitra Innovation so it’s not a theoretical model, but a proven model. If someone were to ask me what I would have done differently when we started Mitra 10 years ago, I would say I would try to pick the right people from day 1, there were mistakes along the way. Even if you find people who you think have the right talent, be prepared to set ambitious targets with the right context, measuring performance over time and changing direction if necessary.
So, how do you find the talent you need? In an organisation when you are launching a new business division or business idea or even a new company, you always need the leader, the CEO or Managing Director, and the people under that person to drive the product strategy, the people strategy, R&D, customer service, finance, operations, tech support etc. These are the key people that you need to bring together depending on what sector you’re going after and what part of the performance cycle you’re currently in. The other thing to consider it that the people that you need on day 1 may not be the same people you need to scale up, so £0 – £1 million requires entrepreneurial, creative, dynamic, agile leaders who are not so much process led, but going from £10 million to £100 million definitely requires process-centric, very structured leadership. Taking your business from £1 billion to £10 billion requires a CEO and executives who have run a large £5 billion+ company. You also need to think differently about business development, with strategies for becoming a market-dominant player. And recruit experts in Mergers and Acquisitions as this will play a major role in delivering consistent growth. So, not that one size fits all, different skills are required at different points of the journey.
Secondly, once you have identified the skills that you need, how do you find the right personnel? The usual way is to write a job description, hire recruiters and conduct interviews. But hiring via recruiters is expensive and can be hit & miss. I take the approach of ‘aptitude and potential to grow’ over ‘do you have the right experience?’. Always look for people with great abilities who will grow with you. Cultural alignment and sharing the same values is very important. Another model I came across is called Job Scorecard. With this model you define the outcomes you require of the job holder for the next 3 years, you then interview the candidates and score them against their ability to deliver the required results, rather than whether they fit the job description. So there are different models you can choose, I’m not saying one is better than another, but one may fit the organisation culture better. The key is to take your time to interview the candidates. Reference based recruitment has always worked well for me.
At Mitra, when we started the company, the three founders knew each other very well. Our first three employees were for a particular project, but over time were not the right fit. We went on to hire our first two engineers a year later and they are still with us today, becoming part of a strategic team to grow the organisation. We hired mostly through our recruitment process and invested a lot of time educating, mentoring and coaching our employees. I am a strong believer of teach-by-example, guiding new recruits and helping them where they need support.
As the organisation grew we needed to bring in more full time employees in a variety of disciplines. Initially we went with part time consultants who were plentiful in the market and easy to find through networking and references. If they perform well, you can approach them to become a full time employee or if they don’t perform well, you can replace them without recourse to the usual HR protocols. So that’s a good technique to use in the early days.
When scaling up a business there comes a point when you need full time, permanent employees who are committed to growing your business. I have found hiring people you already know helps, and at Mitra we have hired a number of people that we knew and they have performed very well. We have also hired people we’ve worked with before who didn’t fit Mitra’s culture, a failure on our part to recognise this during the interview cycle. So, go through your recruitment process, filter based on people you know and make sure you take the time to do the reference calls, they are so important. Always be careful to evaluate your candidates’ aspirations too so they align with your own expectations, a shared vision is very powerful for hyper-growth.
It’s worth mentioning that you can interview a candidate based on certificates, experience and what they have delivered in the past, adding behavioural questions to understand the way a candidate works and their potential team fit. Competency based interviewing will assess the specific skills and knowledge a candidate possesses that are relevant for the job, and I use scenario questions to assess how they would navigate a challenging situation pertinent to your organisation, put them in your shoes and ask them to tell you what they would do differently. Is their response better? Would the outcomes be improved? Understanding a candidate’s ability to respond to known scenarios can demonstrate their fit for your organisation.
Timing is also of the utmost importance when recruiting. Getting the right person at the right time can deliver fantastic results. So as you scale your organisation you have to go and hire more experienced people who have a proven track record. In the early days, it’s good to recruit people who will learn with you, but when going from 5% year over year growth to 40% year over year growth, you need talent who has already been there and done it. They hit the ground running, implementing proven processes, bringing the people they need with them and delivering the desired outcomes. So, as you scale, hire people who have already done it, who are better than you! It’s good to surround yourself with smart people. Challenge them and give them the freedom to achieve, encourage them, coach them and mentor them to really take the organisation to the next level.
- Follow Jim Collins model, the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, you need to do this constantly, adjusting as you go along.
- Don’t take a lot of time to make changes, don’t leave people struggling, find them a different role where they can shine.
- Have a strategic plan from hire to retire ie. How do you go to the market? What presence do you have on the internet and social media? Why should people join you? Why are you the best company to work for?
- Create a strong recruitment model through advertisements or recruitment agencies, or internal recruitment but remember recommendation based recruitment is super powerful.
- Ensure welcoming employees into the organisation is carefully curated, people need to feel they have a fantastic onboarding experience and employment experience within the organisation.
- Invest in your Learning & Development, develop stories about your culture and constantly educate your teams.
Once you have attracted the right talent, you need to retain them. We have a buddy system that works well, to nurture them and ensure they are happy. Make sure they have enough responsibility, and have enough leadership time in the first 90 days. Once they do well in the first 6 months, you need to increase the level of responsibility and increase ownership, and really guide them to achieve a greater investment in the organisation. When you have one talented leader you will see some progress, if you have ten talented leaders you will see success.
Group CEO & Co-founder Mitra Group
About the Author
Ashok Suppiah is co-founder and CEO of the Mitra Innovation Group, a global technology provider specialising in digital transformation, product incubation and integration services. He has been a leading light in the tech industry for over 20 years. A serial entrepreneur, Ashok has started more than 10 technology companies in the USA and UK, notably as a member of Virtusa Corp which sold for US$2Billion in 2021 and as Chief Architect for eDocs which sold to Oracle for US$115Million in 2004.