Reeling 'em in and keeping 'em happy

March 1, 2001


Today's high-technology industry has allowed many individuals to achieve their dream of a lifetime-being in the so-called driver's seat when selecting the company and technology where they will be employed. As a result, the recruiting challenge is exacerbated. To be successful, companies must tout their vision, product, focus, and culture in hopes of attracting talent away from other viable opportunities in the industry.

This is very critical to startups, as they involve considerable risk for employees. Less than 50% of all startup companies survive past the first year of operation. Challenges compound when a startup organization staffs at multiple sites in an effort to accelerate product development and address market opportunities. How are all of these challenges overcome? The plan is simple but requires the support, or "buy-in," of executive management.

A startup must have vision. Vision is defined as the ability to forecast what technology is most needed in the immediate future (current target market) and what technology will need to influence non-target markets in order to adopt the company's product and to "see" the world as it rapidly evolves.

As candidates search for their dream opportunity, they are very concerned about the management team and how much vision or success the team has had in previous companies. Have they been successful in the past? Have they been pioneers in the industry? These are just some of the questions candidates ask when they choose to pursue employment opportunities. If the research is positive, then the next question tends to be, "Is the company focused on their goal?"

Focus is a big issue with candidates and employees. As companies are merged or acquired, the technology itself gets redesigned or refocused to "better serve the needs of the customer." That is frequently the catch phrase given to employees who have committed to a vision that now seems distant. Candidates often refer to this situation in interviews.

Employees, especially engineers, like to work on a focused vision or a technical challenge. They become frustrated when product definitions change each quarter or when a product they have developed is scrapped for some new edition that then gets scrapped, as well. The more a company can stay focused on its vision technically and show this ability to its candidates, the more success it will have in expanding the company with "grade A" talent. That is especially important to candidates who come from companies that have been purchased by a larger organization, which incidentally is a large talent base from which to draw. Potential employees from this pool have already experienced this phenomenon.

All companies want to recruit "A-level" talent to grow and accomplish their objectives. How does a company attract A-level players? Simple-have A-level vision and focus. Many A-level candidates have been successful in the past, either with other startups or larger already-established organizations. They can scrutinize opportunities, because more than likely they have seen both the success and failure associated with vision and focus or the lack thereof.

When proven visionaries are leading an organization, the equation changes. These are companies whose founders have been successful in the past and have money of their own to invest in their ideas. A startup that can fund itself for the entire first year can hold its focus true to the founders' vision. The first year is extremely critical to product definition. As candidates research their next career opportunity, this focus is important, as it translates to success.

Another critical area is the company's product line. Simply put, that is what will make them successful in the long run. Products must not only have appeal today, but also in the future. The world is changing fast-evolving at a technology level and speed never seen before. Today, a company's ultimate solution could be old news in a year. Products must be suitable for today's needs, but must also scale to address future needs.

Employees also want to work on what they consider to be the coolest technology. They want to be part of the "new millennium" and the services that will be offered. The true A-level employees have choices. They have worked on dated technology, as well as on what was last year's or last decade's latest and greatest showcase product. If they wanted a stable, comfortable position, they could get it easily. What they want is a challenge. This challenge is supplied by high-quality product definitions and deployment. They want to see a commitment to excellence, and they want to see it through to the end.

One question asked of me repeatedly is, "Will I get all the tools I need to get the job done?" At my company-a startup-the answer to this question is "Yes!" Because this company has made a commitment to provide top-of-the-line tools for all employees. How can employees do a quality, successful job if they are only given six of the required nine tools identified to reach a goal? Again, that sounds simple but requires buy-in and commitment at all levels to make a startup company successful. Many projects can be completed with lower-level tool sets, but this philosophy will not lead to the overall success of a company.

The ability to provide vision, focus, and viable product seems simple and logical. But perhaps only a third of all startups have these assets. The question then becomes, "How does a company differentiate itself from the other 33% that have the proper vision, focus, and product definition?" The answer is internal culture, but then again, that's another article.

Paul Capano is vice president of human resources at World Wide Packets (Vera dale, WA). He can be reached at the company's Website,

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