Human Resources Today

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Why Start-Ups Matter to HR

Last week, my colleague Rajiv wrote about why start-ups need to care about HR.  Newsflash--that sentiment goes both ways. HR needs to care about entrepreneurs too. If you're in HR, you've heard of SHRM--the Society for Human Resource Management. You might even be a member. While I'm certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), I've let my long-time SHRM membership lapse even though my home office is only a few blocks from SHRM. Here's why--I'm an entrepreneur. My company, exaqueo, is in the business of talent. And yet I still decided the value from SHRM wasn't worth it for me personally. Or anyone on my team.  We're in the business of helping start-ups and high-growth companies solve the talent problems that impede their growth.  They need advice. They need HR. They need help. And right now, SHRM isn't the answer.

As I prepared to write this post, I turned to my colleagues in the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only membership organization comprised of hundreds of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs. I asked if they struggle with HR issues.  "Who doesn't?" one answered. "Talent is everything," said another.  When I walked around the entrepreneurial event Day of Fosterly, a few weeks ago, I asked if the founders and entrepreneurs had heard of SHRM. Few had. And those that did weren't members. Fellow members in my DC Tech Facebook group were mixed on whether they'd heard of SHRM, but all saw HR as hugely important to their business growth.

It doesn't surprise me.

This morning's rotating flash on the SHRM page touts the conference and a webcast on HR departments.  The emails I keep getting throw the carrot of a tote bag if I join. I'm an entrepreneur. I don't have time for a weeklong conference. I don't have an HR department. And I certainly don't want or need a tote bag (NPR, I'm talking to you ,too.)

But, it does scare me.

In HR and recruiting we've become a content nation of boring. We cater to the middle man, the average HR gal. We talk about the same companies over and over. We rely on lists and rankings that mean nothing beyond a fluffy press release. We write the same articles over and over (with the same advice). And we do all this without regard to our audience -- small company, large company, hourly, managerial, tech, union -- it doesn't seem to matter.

The most popular articles on SHRM will make any entrepreneur's eyes glaze over. Today's "most popular" list included HSA, pension, e-Verify, FMLA...most entrepreneurs don't care or want to care about these things. It's up to us as HR professionals make them care in a way that matters to them--money, risk, talent, growth. A Q&A on social media policy? Entrepreneurs don't have time for that. They don't even have or need policies.  Content needs to cater, to be specific to this audience.

They are HR's future customers.

Entrepreneurs need to care about HR and we need to both make them care and show them we can actually help them. I did find a few entrepreneurs getting value from topics like training and employee relations with SHRM:  "I like HR people who like to do lots of training and education. So they get a good resources from SHRM," said one founder. Yes! Many start-ups hire novice or neophyte professionals who want to learn HR and can do it on the go as the start-up grows. But they have to be drawn in.

One entrepreneur shared her perspective on SHRM this way: "Keep in mind, they tend to take the most conservative stance on HR matters so it may or may not be relevant to start-up issues." This is the perception in the marketplace among entrepreneurs who do know SHRM.

HR organizations like SHRM need to think more deeply about the future of the profession and not just coast along appealing to vanilla audiences. There's a place to support entrepreneurs and their work style. Content channels? Sub groups? Communities? Places to show the value of HR to entrepreneurs so they don't ruin their businesses over talent issues.  Believe me--this is more common than you think. (A client recently told me: "I don't understand how I ended up with a group of employees who are incredibly smart but all hate each other.")


Don't you want to be relevant to organizations in the early stage of the organizational life-cycle? If you don't, you should. Ask me how. I'm just down the street...I'll even buy you a Misha's. In the meantime, our little boutique consultancy will continue our mission to build cultures, employer brands and talent start-up at a time.


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Please Stop Hiring Rockstars

When I think of "rockstar," I think of Mick Jagger, Slash, James Hetfield, Ozzy Osbourne, Adam Levine. I think of long hair, tattoos, decibels, backstage mayhem, and decibels. "It's Freedom Rock, turn it up."  When I search "rockstar," I get energy drinks, Rolling Stone, a gaming company and "rockstar abs." To be a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame rockstar, think talent and longevity. To be inducted you had to have been in the business for at least 25 years. Your latest junior developer? Not a rockstar. This is news to many of our start-up and high-growth clients who are just looking for a hip way to say they want the best talent. Stop doing this. Now.

I'm talking to you: a search for "rockstar developer" brought me 24 job ads with this meaningless moniker.  Search for just "rockstar" and you get over 1,600 gems.  Hey, I've taken the quiz to see if I have what it takes and I don't. I rated "Roadie." But none of you punks do either (except you punk rockers, maybe you do.)

The bottom line is you're not going to get the right talent if you're looking for rockstars, ninjas, brilliance, special forces or any other breathless pie-in-the sky terms. No one you know marries the girl on the cover of Maxim. And there's a reason.

You're not looking for amazing in one, and only one way.  And if you think you are, you don't know your own company well enough. Finding talent is an exercise in self-reflection first. And by that, I mean the organization.  Look inward--who are you? What makes you different? What are the commonalities among your employees who are both high performers and stick around?

It's easy to find someone who can develop code or create a marketing strategy. What's hard is finding one who can do it:

  • in your industry
  • for your company
  • on one specific team
  • dealing with a specific project or set of projects
  • playing a certain role on that team
  • within a specific culture
  • working for a specific leader

Then, it becomes harder. Much harder. Especially if your job description just wants AMAZING.  No one person is amazing. But there's a person who's amazing for you. (Yes, this sounds like dating advice. Hear me out, here).

It's not just about the task at hand. It's about the set of criteria and factors that make a job unique. I love the conversation here about rockstar developer versus cowboy coder, but it's so much more than just a descriptor.  It's a recipe where a set of ingredients are all required for the end result to be tasty and worth cooking. Again and again.

Think about it from a job seeker's perspective. When you're brought in for an interview, it means they already think you have the skills needed to do the job. Now, it's about the fit. The same goes for the company. If you describe your job in vague terms like "rockstar" you're going to get a vague set of candidates that respond. They may be able to do the job but they'll have no idea whether they fit any of the other elements of success.

How to fix this? Simple. Encourage self-selection. The more you honestly share about all of the factors of the job, the more likely it is you'll get candidates that fit all of those aspects. Oh, and then you can actually interview and look for them. Be honest, be authentic. But most of all, be clear.

It doesn't have to be a thesis--you can be clear and straightforward in a few short paragraphs. You can also weave your culture in like Woot does. Hilarious, but for a reason. If you don't find it funny, you won't be happy there. If you think the crossword puzzle on the Zappos application is annoying, same deal. I also like Logik's honesty.

Talent is the single most important ingredient to growing a business. Let me say it again. The most important. I don't care if you have the most innovative, efficient, value-add piece of technology the world has ever seen. If you don't have the right combined team to take it to market, you will fail.

Entrepreneurs take note. Take some of that VC money and invest it in a real, grown-up talent strategy. You don't want real rockstar developers (the ones with talent + longevity) to talk about you like this.


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