Illustration by Signe Valentin Andersen

Getting caught up in the numbers game is all too easy when you’re recruiting for a fast-growing startup or scaleup, but turning to short-term solutions when scaling your team is not the way to hit the long-term goal of building a sustainable organization. 

Your short-term goal is growth, your long-term goal is sustainable growth

That short-term goal is very tangible and straightforward: More people are needed to build your product, reaching the sales goals, and making the next round. 

There’s no way to beat around that bush. Without an injection of talent, you won’t succeed. That makes recruitment, and fast-paced recruitment specifically, key to the success of any startup. 

But at the other end of that dilemma is a long-term goal - both for the business as such and for you working with recruitment, talent attraction, or anything People, really: Building a sustainable organization that will be able to keep and attract talent going forward. 

And you really don’t want to be stuck with the consequences of piss-your-pants solutions that hurt your culture, your retention, your employer brand, and – eventually – your ability to fill the pipeline. 

If you're growing, you're doing that for a reason and you want to have sustainable growth as well, so you don't end up with a tenure that's atrocious. - Camilla Bråneryd

For most people working in recruitment, being tasked with hiring at scale means confronting the three, ubiquitous recruitment metrics: Time to hire, cost to hire, and quality of hire, and making the difficult choice of prioritizing among them. 

To address this challenge we asked three recruitment capacities to share their lessons on how to navigate and prioritize the recruitment dilemmas of scaling.  

Lene May Nielsen is Head of Global recruitment Operations at the video game software development company Unity Technologies. In the six years that Lene May has been with Unity Technologies, the company has grown from 500 to more than 4500, expanding globally and moving its headquarters from Denmark to the U.S.

Camilla Bråneryd is Head of Talent Attraction at the e-scooter company VOI Technology. In the 2.5 years since its founding in 2018, VOI Technology has grown to 450 employees and is currently looking to expand globally. 

The cost of sacrificing culture for pace 

If you hire the wrong people, they'll hire more wrong people, and then you are off to a good start! - Lene May Nielsen

According to research by CB insights, 23% of startups that fail, do so because they failed to set the right team

Similarly, research from Bain suggests that the biggest challenger to fast-growing startups and scaleups are not external factors such as market changes, but internal factors such as the effects bulk-hiring can have on culture. 

One example of this is the shift in group-norms that can occur when you’re forced to hire en masse. This situation particularly requires you to keep a check on exactly what type of culture you’re fostering, and whether that reflects the values needed to make you succeed or at worst will turn into a toxic culture

Prioritizing the quality of hire over the immediate need to fill a role can appear to be a costly delay. However, that delay always needs to be weighed against the cost of the trickle-down effects of hiring for pace and quantity. 

Hiring a candidate that turns out to be unable to do the job will likely set you back 5-6 months before the mistake is realized and corrected, compared to the extra month it might have taken to find a better candidate.

If you’ve worked in recruitment, you've had certain red flags with certain candidates. But if you are under pressure then you're more inclined to let one slide. And then you’ll have other problems long term because they’re probably not that great a match. - Camilla Bråneryd

Help your team steer after the right metric 

If you say: “Let's celebrate when we’ve hired 100 people”, then people are going to want to keep an eye on that price and get to 100 as quickly as they can. That’s why you need another metric in there. - Camilla Bråneryd

Your recruitment team will steer after the metric you define. 

If you’re not offering an alternative to succeeding at the numbers game, that is what you’ll get. 

At VOI Technology, Camilla Bråneryd, has made an effort to set up metrics for different types of hires, to reflect the qualitative aspects of the particular recruitment task.  

Now our process is more about predicting, when we start something off, what our target is, assign it and align that with the hiring manager and not just assuming it should take this long. So we agree on what is a reasonable timeline and try to do it more collaboratively. - Camilla Bråneryd. 

The same applies for other efforts to drive the culture in a specific direction: If you’re not accompanying policies with clear metrics and have all partners aling on them, chances are they won’t be put into practice. 

You can have goals for diversity and inclusion, but you need to really have the whole company behind this from the very top. Just having a focus on it... It's not enough.You need to have metrics and processes. - Lene May Nielsen

Revisit and redefine corporate values to match your reality

You cannot lead your company culture in a sustainable direction if you haven’t defined the North Star you’re steering by and the values that are presently driving your company culture. 

Curiosity and self-reflection is important when asking not just leadership but employees, what values are crucial to the organization. 

Most likely, your company culture has been impacted by certain values since its founding, and facing exponential growth is the right time to revisit those values to see if they are still meaningful guiding principles for this next phase of growth.  

You need to be bold enough and honest and transparent enough to say, this is where we are now, this is where we're headed, and if you're up for the journey, this is what it's going to take. So you're not selling something that isn't true. That might sound quite simple like but very often you might tend to paint a prettier picture than to actually sell it a little bit more. - Camilla Bråneryd

This means revisiting the values that will be your foundation going forward. A foundation of values doesn’t describe every tradition, habit, or local practice, but they set a baseline for who you want to be as a company. 

This exercise is important in order to reach internal clarity about who you are – and just as importantly – who you’re not as a company, so everybody from Talent Attraction to hiring managers, to leadership can align on communicating candidly about what employees can expect working for you. 

When I came into the organization we had a lot of [negative] feedback because of a miscalibration within the organization. I think a lot of people expected us to be an organization that was on par with a company that might have been around for, let's say 10 years in terms of processes, policies, and benefits. Asking things like: Why isn't there set out career paths? Because we've been around for 1.5 years is the answer of course. - Camilla Bråneryd

Luckily people are as different as companies are, and they don’t thrive under the same conditions. Some enjoy the unpredictability of the scaleup journey, others will be looking for structure and clear career projections. You need to know that about them, and you need to communicate your reality to them.

Find out how Valuebeat can help you with that 

When it comes to growing a sustainable, and culturally aligned scaleup, that candor is of vital importance.  

Align a growing team on process and standards to provide good experience 

It borders on common sense, but if you're in this kind of hyper-growth where everything is just a tornado around you, you need to have more structure and processes to fall back on, so you don't need to reinvent the wheel all the time. - Camilla Bråneryd

It's a contradiction in terms, but when the rocket launches and you feel you have the least possible time to do it, you need to set up processes that help you make sure that the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. AKA, that you and the rest of the recruitment team know which processes to fall back on.  

Developing scalable processes as you grow is definitely a challenge. And realizing that when you are 10 people in a recruitment team, you can easily agree on certain processes and you can have things in an excel sheet, and do some manual reporting. At some point, that's not scalable anymore. - Lene May Nielsen

One of the key objectives of creating formalized processes is to deliver the same standard of candidate experience across the board. You need that same, high quality of candidate experience, especially when you are recruiting within the same market of engineers for instance. 

Secondly, building solid recruitment operations and getting great candidates on board is like filling up a bucket with a hole in the bottom if those efforts are not matched by your onboarding and retention efforts. 

Don't underestimate onboarding, because when you're in hyper-growth, nobody has time for anything, let alone onboarding. And I've made that mistake, I can definitely own up to not having been great at onboarding previously. But if I don't have the time, I will make the time. - Camilla Bråneryd

Sustainably growing your team might begin with quality recruitment but it is maintained by attention to the entire talent lifecycle

Get the best onboarding tips from Jessica Hayes, VP of People at Whereby, and Miranda Sullivan, Director of Human Resources at Swoon 


Written by
Sigrid Leilund
Content Specialist

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