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Sustaining Hiring Practices for SMEs and Startups

Our article last week discussed the importance of building trust and collaborative culture as employees work remotely during the pandemic. We suggested that instead of resorting to micromanagement and hyper surveillanceto ensure employees are always on the clock, managers might want to design, recruit, and train their teams so that organisations havea minimisedneed for surveillance technology.

Given the issues of employability locally and regionally, we know that this is easier said than done. However, organisations must hire expecting and planning to upskill their staff whilst tapping into their ingenuity, creativity and grit. As entrepreneurs and leaders, it is worth developing management styles and company cultures where employees understand the ‘why’ (and ‘what’) of their deliverables and are both expected and positioned to grow.

Today, we would like to discuss hiring and training staff within this framework. As an SME or startup owner, you likely need experienced staff to hit the ground running but are not always able to afford to pay for people with the desired level of expertise. On the other hand, you do not have the time to train people with no experience, even if their starting salaries are more in your budget range. How do you deal with this scenario while ensuring that your hiring practices are sustainable and realistic?

By this time, you have likely found out that something has to give. So, consider developing a hybrid solution, suited to your particular business, that invests in hiring experienced staff for key senior positions. At Spurt! we have dedicated ourselves to helping organisations like yours engage with the hiring process differently.For young ventures, your low ratio of highly skilled and experienced staff are expected to spend a chunk of their time actively training junior staff who might be less experienced.

On the other side, hire junior staff in a way that prioritises character, attitude, and propensity for learning quickly, over experience or specific knowledge of the industry. So what you need are smart people that can learn quickly by observing and doing, with managers that can see themselves not only as responsible for getting the job done, but upskilling the junior staff members. This means that for the senior manager/trainers – let’s call them anchor staff – you are hiring not just for their experience, but for their ability to train and build capabilities into other people, and for the junior staff – let’s call them pipeline staff – you are hiring for aptitude and attitude.

You approach to hiring for these two position types will necessarily be different. For your anchor staff, it is not only about expertise and experience. These people also need to have the ability to develop processes and systems that will transform your firm into a sustainable institution. They will be the ones who help you to build and grow the business, and they need to be cross-functional, especially in the context of a small firm. These processes and systems do not have to be complicated but instead structured as a function of yourcurrent organisation’s needs and capacity.

Seek out for people that come with a mindset that goes beyond getting the job done and extends to ensuring that the work delivery is repeatable and reliable for every customer. Anchor staff need to be able to carry people along. It must be a key requirement you emphasise. This requires that you have practical interview sessions which are designed to engage them on microprojects with a junior member of staff as part of the recruitment process.

Use this to assess their communication and leadership styles. See beyond whether or not the task was completed satisfactorily.Look instead athow it was completed: did the person communicate and were they able to guide junior staff effectively to complete the task. It should be a carefully designed group task that takes a couple of hours so that you can build out rubrics designed to look out for these specific attributes.

For junior staff, start by accepting that the person’s first month or two will be a learning process and think long term. This is how investment banks can hire history and English degree holders that have taken no finance classes. They hire for the person’s ability to learn and grow quickly. So, if you ask a question on a topic that they are not familiar with, see how they respond. Do they ask more questions? Do they respond to the answers you give them? Do not be afraid to teach during an interview, but make sure you look out for those that can and do learn from the information you are giving.

Again, a group activity with senior staff will help as part of the recruiting. How do they react to new information? To what extent are they asking questions? What is their general attitude? How creative are they in coming up with solutions?The point is that when hiring in this way, you hire with the mindset that you are hiring capable teachers and students. It would be nice to have ready-made staff, but sadly that is not the reality. However, it is possible to design your employee base by hiring certain kinds of people.

Furthermore, as the leader or head of people at your firm, should be ready to think strategically about people, with the idea of collaboration at the centre of your strategy. If everybody that comes into your firm immediately sees that it is a firm where all learn and grow together, the teacher-student relationships (at all levels) will thrive. As your existing staff become more experienced, they also become anchor staff who train and develop newbies. Insodoing, the culture of shared learning grows at your firm and an open and collaborative culture develops.


Patience is required, but it pays off. As always, feel free to reach out to us at Spurt! with any questions on how your firm can effectively execute this strategy for your particular context.

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