Performance Engineering Series: Mastering the Talent Equation

Performance Engineering

The fifth and final article in the Performance Engineering for startups series focuses on hiring and retaining the right talent for your company.      

Despite this being the fifth and final post in the Performance Engineering series, it is the most fundamental. Every company (outside of solopreneurs) has 'talent.' If you don't have the right talent in the right places doing the right things, those people will be more of a cost center than a source of growth or competitive advantage. The 'right seat' might be on your bus, or it might be in the sidecar. Knowing who to invite and where those people should 'sit' is everything. Before you set your direction, identify the right people - the ones who will pivot with you if you change direction, the ones who are aligned with you and motivated by a desire to be part of the great thing you're building and scaling.      

The Current State of Talent

Finding and retaining the right talent is pressing for business leaders. And the volume of leaders allocating strategy and dollars to the efforts speaks to just how large a priority it is. When surveyed by EY in 2022, 38% of executives indicated that talent acquisition is a serious risk to their business, second only to the impact of cyber threats. With labor shortages perpetuating, 63% of companies are taking specific steps to shore up their resources, including:  

  • Expanding remote work options: 70% of executives have either implemented remote options or have a plan in place to do so
  • Pursuing acquisitions: 52% of executives are considering acquisition access and adding the talent they need  
  • Customizing their HR strategy: 59% have a plan to tailor HR offerings by employee type or have implemented one (1)

Beyond recruiting and hiring, the second piece in the 'right people in the right seats' equation is upskilling and training. Most leaders are pursuing the positive outcomes of having people with the right skills. In 50% of cases, it's a 'less is more' approach. We're seeing massive evidence across some of the largest technology companies in the world slashing their headcounts to gain performance efficiencies and raise the collective caliber of their teams by reducing their headcount. In some cases (44%), companies are actually rescinding offers as part of the effort. (2) Of course, these activities aren't generalized across every sector. What's worth noting is that the practice of hiring, training, and retaining with a laser focus on quality is becoming the norm rather than the exception.      

People are Your Most Expensive and Most Valuable Asset

Treat them that way. Would you leave the door to your server room unlocked? Not likely. The equipment is too expensive and too mission-critical. Your people are exponentially more valuable than your equipment. Treat them like people, of course, but remember that they are your most important investment. Protect that investment accordingly.

Confirm that every team member is contributing (and how they add value). Ensure they are aware of company needs and objectives and are prepared to do their job. Beyond caring for them, make sure people are working for you. Make certain your team members are ever-present during the core times of the day. Even if you have a liberal (or full-time) remote work policy, people must be visible. The discipline will hold people accountable.

In some ways, accountability is as simple as each person knowing others can see them, so they are less likely to slack off. Perhaps more importantly, though, is that video is a proxy for in-person engagements, helping to build relationships and improve verbal and non-verbal communication.  Whether in-person or on-screen, setting accountability measures requires:    

  • Setting clear expectations and goals
  • Providing regular feedback
  • Using resources and tools to simplify communications and engagements
  • Being available to people in real-time
  • Trusting people to do their jobs

A Team for Today and Tomorrow

Analyze your strategic workforce needs to understand the skills and capabilities required today and those needed to execute your company's future strategic initiatives. Your workforce development plan will include strategies for recruiting, hiring, and developing the right people, ongoing, to ensure your business continues to have the skills and capabilities necessary and at scale.

As with so many of these efforts, one of the most important things to consider is that this effort is ongoing, not set and forget:    

  • Consider your business goals to understand what you are striving to achieve now and in the future. Align the skills and capabilities you need to achieve them, and use that insight to assess the appropriateness of your team.
  • Conduct a skills gap analysis to zero in on areas of training and development that will make your team members and your company more successful.
  • Assess your competitors to understand what skills and roles they are engaging that you may not be (and to know why).
  • Evaluate the future of your industry so you can build a phased plan for things like emerging technology tools your people will need to be able to use to optimize your outcomes.
  • Have conversations with your people, especially your managers, to clarify what they want to learn and what skills they think are most important to the ongoing success of your organization.

For each component of your people experience (e.g., recruiting and performance management), consider what changes you might need to make to drive the right culture, experience, and outcomes. Use the insights to customize an HR strategy based on the employee types and skills you need to grow. (3)

Manage Performance Expectations and Feedback  

Use performance management tools that use data to assess how employees and managers are doing, especially given the shift to hybrid work where in-person oversight is less common. (4) As you do, first consider the source. Be careful to use well-designed and properly implemented tools. Balance technology with conversations, interviews, and observations (even if you have remote teams). Ensure your data is reliable and accurate. For one, it's fair to your people. The rigor will also help to protect your company from the risk of HR issues.      

Data provides objectivity. Use it to avoid bias and ensure equal treatment for your employees. Data should do as much to highlight areas of improvement as it does areas to reward or punish. That information should inform the feedback provided to all team members. It should be specific, actionable, and measurable so you can use it to monitor the development, progress, and compensation for each individual in the organization fairly and constructively.      

Be Willing to Let Under-performers Go  

The data may show that you have people on the team who don't fit the current and future needs of the company. As difficult as it can be to let people go, especially if they were an early hire, it's the only way to ensure you have the right people in the right roles.

If the data, observations, and discussions provide evidence that an employee is underperforming or not a fit for your rapidly evolving company, letting them go is a sign of commitment to the company's success. Chances are good that you have limited resources. While it may sound callous to connect revenue to people, if someone has become a cost center (money going out the door) rather than a revenue center (adding to the bottom line), you are deciding to sacrifice one for the good of many, or risk loss for everyone. On the flip side, letting underperforming employees go frees up resources you can use to retain top performers and hire others based on your workforce assessment results.

Morale is a consideration for team members who are a good fit for your current and future needs. Allowing B-players to operate alongside A-players is not going to motivate the B-players; it's going to frustrate the A-players. And guess which ones will leave? (Not the B-players.) When employees see that the company is willing to let go of under-performers, they gain clarity about how serious they are about performance and contribution.

The Leader's Role in the Talent Equation

Entrepreneurs need to be more like team builders rather than team leaders to attract, retain, motivate, inspire, and develop a successful team that can execute a shared vision. To this end, entrepreneurs must have the self-awareness to know what they know and what they don't. Be objective about strengths and weaknesses and build a team that fills gaps. Trying to pretend you can do everything on your own is a recipe for disaster. Team-building soft skills can make or break your startup's success. (5) Spend more time cultivating this skillset and thoughtfully build out your team. (6)      

Talent acquisition and development is a service we've always offered to our startups. We do it differently because we have been operators. We understand why identifying the right person is more than a resume consideration. Filling the right roles and tasks have to fit with the cost and culture of the startup so it can scale.

The BIP Ventures value platform brings our specialists to the table to work alongside founders and their teams, knowing what VCs and the market want and need. We offer an experienced, objective viewpoint that many (highly optimistic) founders have not yet gained. While this approach to talent may seem unfriendly initially, it puts everyone in place to do what each one does best for the good of the founders and the company.    

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