Startup? Start with the team.

If you want to walk fast, walk alone.
If you want to walk far, walk together!

You would come across countless such gems that apply to you as an entrepreneur on how you should be going about when starting the next dream venture of yours. But none could be more critical than this. As an entrepreneur, the one mistake most of us do is trying to do a lot of work ourselves, and even when we do start building a team, we think of them more as resources than co-pilots. That’s a huge mistake. Learn to share the burden.

But then, you can’t really share the burden with just about anyone, can you? You need to find the right guys — someone who believes in what you are doing as much as you do, someone who is passionate about it, and has the fire to take the business to the next level. So how do you go about building the team? Luckily, the leaders of today have some advice for the leaders of tomorrow; and we took the liberty to compile some of that. Let’s take a look.

If you are the CEO, recruitment is on you — not on the headhunters and not on your HR managers

Running an early stage business is hard, you are always working on solving one problem after the other, putting out fires, trying to raise some funds. As a result, you end up outsourcing whatever you think can be handled by someone else — including recruiting talent, which gets outsourced to ‘experienced professionals’, the headhunters. According to many successful business leaders, that is a disastrous mistake. For a CEO, the three most aspects of his work should be — (1)Setting the vision for the company and carving out the path to get the company there, (2) Raising funds for the business to ensure there is always enough fuel in the tank, and (3) Recruiting and retaining great talent.

Point 1 and 2 are things that every entrepreneur ever would agree on, but point 3 often gets sidelined, which shouldn’t be the case. An engaged and vigil CEO keeps a list of great talent within the organization as well as outside it, builds relationships with his top performers and values their opinion and input when looking for talent (including, but not limited to, asking them for recommendations and their connections in the industry), and be the face of the company — engage with as many people as possible and tell a story of the business that would make everyone want to work with you.

It doesn’t matter whether you are hiring for a particular role right now or not, as a CEO, you should make it a personal mandate to continuously meet good talent in the industry and build a relationship with them. That way, when you do need someone to fill in a crucial pair of shoes, you always have a few in your address book to catch up with over beer.

Hire for the moment

As a business, we always tend to think that the best thing for the business is to hire resources who would stick around for years to come. While it does have its conventional wisdom, it might not always be the right strategy — it depends on what stage of the business are you at currently. If you are an early stage company, your focus might be on hiring resources who are simply great at their jobs, irrespective of whether they play well with others or not. Why? Because at this stage, you do not have much of a team to begin with, so irrespective of who you hire, the person may end up doing a lot of work on his own, cut from the rest of the world, lost in his computer. So how does it matter if he can manage a big-ass team or not? What really matters is how skilled he is at the job that is required of him today — to take the company to the next level. When your company starts growing big, it is only then that you need people who can manage teams and teams that can work well in collaboration with each other. So, let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Shrewd? May be. But remember, we are not living in the 1970s anymore; you really won’t be expecting the people you hire to be lifers. So hire someone who is the perfect fit for today, let’s worry about tomorrow when the time comes.

Identify talent, build relations and cut down the fat

There are three types of resources you will come across — (1) The star performers, (2) The run-of-the-mill average joe, and (3) The deadweights. How you handle each of these three categories is equally important to building and retaining a great team. Let’s start with the deadweights. These are the people that just aren’t working out — the fat, and need to be trimmed down at the earliest. Why? Because it is not just their diminished productivity that is hurting your business, but the fact that they bring the overall productivity as well as morale and enthusiasm down for people around them as well. You don’t want them dragging the whole team down. This is crucial for businesses of all shapes and sizes, but becomes extra critical the more early stage your business is in.

Now, let us talk about the star performers. It is imperative that you check up on them, build a close working relationship and devote time to understanding what’s working for them and what’s not on a regular basis. They are the ones who are contributing the most to your business, so it is both good business sense as well as fair that you do your part and ensure that they are happy in the roles that they are playing as well. If not, start figuring out ways to make that happen. This will help you not just with them, but in building an amazing incentive strategy for your future hires as well.

For the rest? You need to invest in them to help them grow further and realise their potential.

Diversify your talent pool — Have a team that shares the same values, but might go about things differently

Building a culture for the organization is often the onus of the CEO and the early employees. Unfortunately, a lot of people misinterpret ‘cultural fit’ as finding people who resonate with you (and other employees) in how you think and behave. That’s how you form a hobby club — people who have similar interest and taste as yours, not a company. That approach would often be detrimental to the company because you will end up with people having similar thought processes — limiting the ability of the team to think creatively when faced with challenges and obstacles.

You want to build a team based on shared values, not shared interests.

Transparency, Honesty and Integrity

Despite your better instincts (which will often by propelled by either fear or the desire to avoid confrontation or a difficult situation), always remember — being honest is the way to go in your business. Be it with your customers, your investors and shareholders, and most importantly, with your team — always be upfront and honest. Being transparent avoids guesswork, makes them feel that you are someone they can depend on and trust and instills a sense of faith in your leadership. The days when a leader felt the need to put on a brave face to ‘shield’ his team from a sense of insecurity have been long gone. In good times, and more so in times of crisis, it is absolutely imperative that you don’t shut yourself off to your team. You want your team to trust you? Treat them with respect and be transparent about how things are.

Now that doesn’t mean you should be crass about things — how you communicate the news is as important as communicating the news itself. If the situation is bad, explain to them what the situation is, what is it that have landed you in this situation and what is it that you are planning to do to turn things around. What you are doing and why you are doing it that way is something that you should follow in your day-to-day business life, irrespective of how things are. If you want people to be invested in what they are doing and have a passion for it, don’t expect them to simply do what they are told, help them understand why they are being asked to do things a certain way.

Remember, in the early days of any business, all you are looking for are the small wins. And getting a right team in place, or every right resource hired towards building a great team — is an amazingly huge win.