How to Attract and Develop Top Talent

How to attract talent | BCBusiness
Attracting and retaining talented employees requires more than fat salary offers.

Three executives share their successes, failures and best advice for acquiring and retaining the best team

Day two at GROW had several well-attended sessions, but “How to Attract and Develop Top Talent” wins for the most captive audience. Fast Company senior writer Ellen McGirt expertly moderated the panel, which included Andrew D’Souza, COO of Top Hat; Tobias Lütke, CEO of Shopify; and Kirk Simpson, CEO and founder of Wave.

Kirk Simpson started by advising that the best way to hire during growth is to identify the gaps that emerge, and then target those positions by finding people you can trust completely. “Find people that you really believe you can hand the reins to and say, ‘Take it. I need to sleep at night,’” said Simpson. “I can’t be managing all of these different ideas in my head. I want to find somebody that’s just great at what they do and say, ‘Here’s the opportunity to really get stuff done.’”

The path to finding that fantastic and trustworthy employee, however, never looks the same. Tobias Lütke said his co-founder pursued the same person over the course of six-and-a-half years, but in another scenario, has also hired 30 people in one day at an event. Although the process differs, it must always be creative.

“What we went out to find were people who were excited about building the business with us,” said Andrew D’Souza, adding that his company has brought on four senior executives in the past three months. “These people didn’t join because of what the company was already doing and they were along for the ride. They joined because they saw that we had a kernel of something and we had a lot of potential with the company, and they could see what the company could be with that skill set plugged in.” Once you hire someone who’s ready to help build the company—ideally someone who’s better than you at what they do—the best thing you can do is give them your trust, then, as D’Souza put it, “get out of their way.”

All three panellists agreed that mistakes are inevitable during the hiring process, but the key is to be open and honest when they happen. “You’ve got to look in the mirror and say, ‘I just made a mistake. Here’s the following reasons why that is, here’s what I’ve learned from it,’” said Simpson. “Get some outside advice—having somebody to bounce those ideas around and say, ‘Is this truly a mistake? How did I look at it wrong in the first place?’ and be willing to adjust based on that.” D’Souza said it took a long time—“about six months”—to admit the first mistake in hiring a senior executive who wasn’t a good fit. “Once you have to let somebody go that you were very excited about and everybody around you was very excited about, it makes you very, very careful the next time you hire,” he said.

Whether he knew it or not, Lütke quoted Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In when he said careers are more like jungle gyms than ladders. He insisted that it’s not only more enjoyable to move around to different positions, but it’s also more compatible with the current job market. “The reason that I can solve problems better than other people is because I have useful experience in all these different fields, combined it, and that’s what we call creativity,” said Lütke. “Try to do that in your company.” Moving employees around to different positions rather than the typical vertical ascension from team lead to manager to executive, can result in a more dynamic and creative workforce.  

“When we hire people we try to understand what their career goals are,” said D’Souza. If you can align a career path with what your company needs to grow, you’re building a mutually beneficial relationship. In the same vein of focusing on employees’ post-hire life with the company, Simpson said that nurturing talent is crucial. “Startups are generally OK with spending the time to go meet lots of candidates and go out and find great talent. They pay recruiter fees to bring them in the door, they spend time with the new recruits getting them up to speed,” he said, “but if you don’t spend time nurturing that talent and invest in that side of it, then all of that capital was wasted.”

To wrap up, the panellists gave some concrete qualities to look for in future employees:
The desire to win. Don’t look for that competitive drive that alienates others, but rather seek out the kind of spirit that will get a person back up when she’s been knocked down.
The ability to overcome odds. Look for a repeated pattern in their past of overcoming odds and passion for the companies they’ve worked for.
Compatibility. Know the kind of people you need and recognize the type of people you like being around.