In an ideal world, the team you build at your tech startup should be lean and mean. Finding top talent means you get people on staff who can accomplish more with less guidance in less time. And that enables you to outdo your competition and grow faster.
At the end of the day, a huge part of your startup’s success comes down to the people who make up your team. Finding top talent probably requires a lot of your time on an ongoing basis. So once you get someone onboard, you want to keep them there.
Then come the headhunters. Maybe your startup is making a name for itself and attracting attention that way, or maybe you hired someone so talented that they were already on headhunters’ radar. Either way, it’s you versus the headhunter in a fight you definitely don’t want to lose.
The thing is, headhunting is a part of the tech startup space. You can’t avoid it, so you need to be prepared for it. To help you navigate people trying to snap up your top performers — and to help your startup thrive no matter what individual employees choose — work on these four things.
See it as a positive
A major part of the problem with headhunting is that it usually happens in secret. Your employee could have a handful of conversations with the headhunter without you ever knowing about it. By the time you’re clued in, they may have already made the decision to leave.
A great way to combat that is to make headhunting something that you celebrate internally. This can be tricky because you need to start somewhere. Ideally, a headhunted employee will tell you about it and decide to stay. If that happens, make it a big deal.
A team member getting headhunted means that you’re doing something right. It means that their expertise is impressive enough to be sought-after, and it means your company has done well in hiring top talent. Hype up the employee — and their decision to stay with your startup — as a positive for both the individual and your company.
Personally, seeing headhunting as a positive can help you manage the stress of it better, too. Remember that your team getting cherry-picked means you’ve got team members worth their salt. That can help you pour energy into building a company worth staying at, rather than worrying over potential departures.
Emphasize and build company culture
Culture is a buzzword right now, so much so that a lot of founders might roll their eyes about us bringing it up here.
But here’s the thing: culture is trending because it works. A third of job seekers say they’d take a pay cut for good company culture. On the flip side, 60% of polled individuals said that they would leave their job over a bad boss. In short, good company culture supports retention. Bad culture makes a headhunter’s job a whole lot easier.
Now, the trick in taking culture from a buzzword to an actual value-add in your workplace comes down to building a culture worth staying for. Some areas to consider are:
- Management: When you put people in leadership positions, are they trained on how to manage the people under them? Skills in a specific area aren’t enough. As a manager, that individual needs people skills, too. Consider leadership training for all of your managers. Even a simple online course that they have to complete after promotion can make a big difference in opening their eyes to the basic responsibilities of someone in a managerial position.
- Development: People don’t join a tech startup to stagnate. You can incentivize people to stay by supporting their personal and professional development. This could be anything from covering the cost of online courses they want to take to bring in a fun personal development event each month (e.g., a cooking course, a home gardening tutorial). The more you can show your team that you want them to grow alongside your business, the more likely they are to invest in your startup’s development.
- Flexibility: The majority of workers now want (and expect) some flexibility in their work schedules. Consider letting employees work from home some or all of the time, or letting them set their own hours. If you don’t give a little to show your employees that their work lives can integrate seamlessly with their personal lives, you’ll make potential job offers at more flexible companies a lot more enticing.
Consider the impact on your team’s morale
Now that we’ve considered what to do if a headhunted employee stays and how to incentivize them to do so, let’s look at the worst-case scenario. Someone gets headhunted and accepts the offer. You have to tell your team that they’re leaving for another company.
Before you find yourself in this situation, it pays to think through how you’ll handle it. The last thing you want is to have a deer-in-the-headlights moment when facing something that could impact your remaining employees’ morale.
Generally speaking, being forthcoming and positive about the employee’s departure can help soften the blow for the rest of your team. Don’t try to hide any details. Instead, share that you’re excited to watch the leaving individual’s career and that you wish them continued success.
Being gracious about their decision to leave shows your team that you’re understanding. And being supportive, even when they’re no longer going to be a contributor, shows the employees who stay that you care about them as people, not just cogs in your machine.
Use it as a reminder to address potential issues
If someone does decide to leave, ask them for an exit interview. Take the time to figure out what excited them about their new employer, and where your company culture fell short. It might be helpful to ask about:
- Burn-out levels
- Buy-in to the company’s vision
- Fulfillment in their work
It doesn’t feel good to lose a valued employee. But it’s an opportunity to learn and grow. Taking advantage of it can help you fend off future headhunters.
Finding top talent is a major challenge. Keeping them can be even more so. The last thing you want is to get distracted by your bookkeeping or tax preparation to-dos when you’re trying to build your dream team.
That’s where we come in. As an accounting firm specializing in services for tech startups, we can pull work off your plate to keep you free for your core company building. To get started with us, get in touch.