How to Create a High-growth Hiring Plan for Startup Success – Part 1

Hiring great people starts with a plan

Terrific teams don’t just happen—especially in a startup where there’s never enough money and never enough time.

Building a successful and scalable company requires a hiring plan to acquire the best and the brightest employees. They must be fearless, tireless, and unbelievably committed. They must be willing to take a giant leap of faith.

Of all the challenging and difficult tasks, hiring decisions are the most important decisions that any entrepreneur makes.

The Business Case for Culture

Attracting, hiring, and retaining the right talent is the name of the game. From the day you hire employee #2 for as long as the company exists, people remain a company’s greatest competitive asset.

As company founder and CEO, it is up to you to build and execute a hiring plan that produces the right talent for your company at the right time. Crafting a company culture that compels people to come and work for you is the first step; your values are your north star.

A recent study from Columbia University reported that in rich culture environments, turnover was less than 15 percent, while in poor culture environments, it was nearly 50 percent. And there’s even more evidence:

  • An engaged workforce leads to a 21 percent increase in productivity and profitability.
  • Peers and camaraderie are the #1 reason employees go the extra mile.
  • Disengaged employees take 15 more sick days than the average employee.
  • Managers are the #1 reason employees take or leave a job.

We’ve all seen the video of the customer who was forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight so that United could seat four airline employees who needed to reach Louisville at a specific time. That is United Airline’s culture in action.

Contrast that with Southwest Airlines where employee success is measured by customer satisfaction scores. Southwest has the fewest customer complaints, the lowest level of lost luggage, and the highest on-time departures and arrivals. To date, Southwest has never laid off an employee and has been profitable for 45 years. CEO Gary Kelly attributes that to culture.

There's a lot to a culture, and it's easier to have a strong culture if you feel like you're a champion. And that's the way our employees feel. -Gary Kelly, CEO, Southwest Airlines

Crafting a Culture That Compels People to Work for Your Company

Culture is the philosophy that defines your decisions and behaviors. Culture is the force that attracts talent to your organization.

An innovative product or technology may be a head-turner, but to get remarkable talent on board requires outstanding managers. Your leadership team must be engaging and invested in their employees and then convey that as they are attracting and hiring new employees.

What makes a terrific manager or supervisor? In a word, inclusion.

When a manager is inclusive with early employees about the decisions concerning the organization rather than making unilateral decisions without communications, that builds trust and loyalty.

Demonstrate that you understand the value of the people who come to work for you. Remember, excellent employees are your company’s competitive edge. Follow a consistent and transparent process so employees can see how you treat people. Everyone is looking for frequent communication and feedback. Employees want reassurance that they are doing a good job and contributing.

Determining Your Employer Brand

Potential candidates need to understand what is unique and special about your company quickly. The average candidate is looking for culture and values first, and job specifications second. The brand is how you pitch and market your company culture.

The goal is to be known within the labor market not only for the products or services the company provides, but for the benefits—tangible and intrinsic—associated with working at the company.

Tangible benefits can be a stretch for startup companies. Most startups have trouble competing on salaries and benefits. However, a fabulous culture, flex time, a collaborative and innovative environment, and of course employee stock options are crucial to your brand.

The Nuts and Bolts of Attracting the Best Candidates

Once you’ve defined your culture and brand, the next step in the process is creating role descriptions. A thoughtful role description (“role,” not “job”) will help attract the right people who share your purpose and values.

Creating a Hiring Plan

Be creative as you search out sources of talent. Your next hire could come from an online search, LinkedIn, Facebook, or from a conversation at your daughter’s school. Start with personal networks, people you know, your team, advisors, board members, friends, your attorney or CPA, your alma mater, or networking events. Use digital tools, including Rev 1’s Jobs Board.

When you’ve exhausted these options, consider a professional search partner. Hiring these firms is costly, so hold back except for high impact, high-urgency positions that you haven’t been able to fill. 

Conclusion: Your Sourcing Strategy Will Change, Depending on the Role and Stage of Your Company

Attracting, hiring, and retaining the right people for your business is the name of the game.

  • Excellent people will always be your most competitive advantage.
  • Look at where you spend your money: Once your business goes beyond the prototype stage, compensation and benefits will be in the top 3.
  • Attraction and retention of talent is the name of the game.

As CEO, you must not only be involved in the talent acquisition process, you must set the example and lead the charge.

Successful Hiring for Startups Part 2

Rev1’s Expert Network can help portfolio companies build a hiring plan. To learn more, please contact Lora Zotter.


About Denise Kestner

Denise holds a Masters in Labor & Human Resources from The Ohio State University. She also holds a Masters in Vocational Counseling from the University of Florida and a Bachelors degree in Psychology from UF as well.

From a career standpoint, Denise has worked her way up from an HR Generalist (waste & recycling industry) role to a VP of HR for a healthcare company before launching out on her own in the consulting arena 11 years ago. Today, she spends her time with almost 115 companies throughout the calendar year in a variety of industries… helping them to align their most important asset (yes…. that would be their people) with what they hope to accomplish with their business.In addition to working with over 100 companies each year, she has been teaching at the undergraduate and graduate level at The Ohio State University, Ohio Dominican University and Franklin University for almost 12 years.