These days I seem to have completed the cycle of becoming an entrepreneurial business founder (after 25+ years in corporate life), finding myself again the head of a considerable Group enterprise. All that and I am a HR professional by trade, which is why I have a strong focus on all things talent and engagement.
I have tried my whole career to avoid listening to ‘experts’ in this area who have never actually run a business themselves, or indeed run a large and sophisticated human capital function. If you have done neither, you are a theorist at best, a commentator at worst.
There is nothing like setting up and running your own shop for getting to the sharp end of the three talent challenges: finding them, motivating them and keeping them.
Sure, this equation changes by skill type as cyclical supply in the market moves, but fundamentally the underlying points are the same when we are talking about people.
So, what I have learned from my journey that I can pass on to entrepreneurs starting on their own journey? Here are a few pointers:
- Always know your ‘North Star’. Be vocal about it, and make sure all of your people can take the same destination at all times. Real talent likes mission; indeed, in fintech, one could say they get excited by a ‘mission impossible’.
- Find a balance of ‘grey hair’ and ‘naïve, but high-potential’. Get this right and you will have a potent talent pool that will be able to innovate, but also avoid the very real bear traps out there.
- Remember that there are both overpaid muppets and undiscovered gems aplenty sitting in the large FS organisations around the world. They are a great talent pool but make sure you hire those who can and will get their hands dirty, and not those who simply talk a good game.
- Never hire somebody who talks money before anything else. Always hire those who challenge you hard on your purpose, your plans, your process and your culture without mentioning money. They are the ones who will actually make you money.
- Trite as it is, as well as finding competence and hunger, make sure those you hire are nice, balanced human beings. In the early years, it will only take one or two individuals lacking balance to materially damage your prospects.
- Share real value from top to bottom, and don’t rely on gimmick offers and benefits. Five years in, people won’t give a damn that you give them free bananas in the office. Go a step further. When cash is tight, and it will be, pay the juniors first. You will get an exceptional payback downstream if you do these things.
- When you have the right people, invest in them. This isn’t just training. It’s stretching them every which way, but liberal with responsibility (with a safety net), knowledge transfer, and the most valuable of all, your time as a coach and advocate. If you do that for them, they will do it for others, and it will multiply and embed itself into your culture.
- Celebrate every little win and learn from every setback – and do it openly and transparently. That fosters trust and belief that success will come, and you will be ready for it when it does. True talent requires authentic engagement with high frequency, so build an open-book, feedback-driven, no-BS culture where everyone knows where they stand – good or bad from time to time. Do this and there are rarely surprises, let alone shocks.
- Finally, remember that succeeding in a talent war is damn hard work and it never ends. But don’t be frightened of that war! In any sector where demand outstretches supply, you will never have ‘won’. You just have to remember to keep fighting to earn your right to retain your best, and to be able to attract better players when they become available.
Phil Smith is CEO of Embark Group.
The views and opinions expressed in this Viewpoint article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views and opinions of Fintech Bulletin.