Can Startups Win the Battle for Human Talent?

Building human capital for startups has been an essential part of my entrepreneurship journey. It is no secret that a passionate and motivated team is one of the best resources that a company could have. As a startup with limited resources, do I really have the ability to compete with large companies in the battle for human talent? Regardless of the answer, I realised I had no choice.

A startup is only as good as its team.

So I experimented with various motivation methods I read online or from books, lost and gained a few talents, and finally, I found that startups do have their own advantage over large companies.

These are the 4 traits that I believe would render startups as a valid contender for human talent:

1) A Personal Touch

The limited resources of startups often results in a small team working on a large number of things. However, this is not necessarily negative. A small team allowed me to know every team member personally. I was able to give personal attention to every individual and help them understand how each of their personal strengths and weaknesses contribute to the overall team dynamics or business objective.

This is important as everyone is unique, and has their own abilities and values that motivates them. Aligning their work, responsibilities, and benefits to suit their preferences would result in happier employees and minimal wasted resources. It is important to remember that work is a two-way relationship. It is not solely the team members’ responsibility to adapt and suit the company. This would encourage conformity and push away alternate opinions and new ideas--a different set of eyes and opinions is always necessary in the startup’s growth stage, where would be a better place to look than your own company? It is the responsibility of the employer to understand and identify employees’ traits, fit them in the right place within the team and communicate how it contributes to the overall business that is in line with their values and abilities.

2) Growing the Team with Autonomy

A typical startup is faced with a ton of uncertainties which in turn makes it a strength for employee growth. Although as a startup founder you might have a vision on how to execute the plan, it is important to be flexible and give team members autonomy for flexibility--unless you’re 100% certain your plan would work better than theirs. However, in most cases, the uncertainty means my guess can only be as good as yours.

This does not entail a free-reign and eventual free-fall--set the parameters and allow employees to work on projects they believe in or can best contribute to. This sense of autonomy and ownership would motivate them to work harder, take more initiative, and perform better on the task.

3) Tangible Rewards is Not Everything

The competition for talent is not always about the organisation that spends the most. One of the more important trend in the room is the increasing presence of personal growth as a key driver to job satisfaction. It does not matter if they are individuals who are looking towards being future entrepreneurs or simply employees. More often than not, employees possess a desire for a job that that can expand their horizons and prepare themselves for their future career goals.

If you have a company vision, make the vision your team’s as well. Let team members give their input in their visualisation of how the company should be. A big picture is the sum of many small parts, with each employee holding a piece.

4) Alternative Resources

A good workplace environment, organisational culture, and community can be motivational aspects for employees. Employees are more motivated to work if they see familiar faces and get the chance to interact and collaborate with others. However, for years, it has been seen as out of reach for financially-strapped startups with stories of working from homes. But today, it is no longer difficult or extremely costly to have a beautiful physical space that team members would feel good to work at. Nor is it difficult to build a community spirit in a small, mobile startup team. Alternatives such as co-working spaces with lower rent and more flexibility in commitment bring these benefits to the table. Dedicated team bonding nights over food or games is also a way to build camaraderie amongst the team.

Summing it up

In reality, with the image of start-ups getting more polished, the battle for human talent might be skewed on our side yet. Perhaps a question we might ask ourselves is how we can get a leg up in the ever increasing pool of start-ups?