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Hiring Slow, Firing Fast: A Guide to a Start-up's hiring Success

finance leadership founders hr Sep 08, 2023

In the volatile world of startups, each hiring decision can be the difference between scaling up and slowing down.

For Founders and Finance Directors alike, the adage 'hire slow, fire fast' is more than just sage advice—it's a critical strategy.

Here's how start-up leaders can ensure they make the right hiring choices and create a 90-day onboarding plan.

1. The Importance of Diligent Hiring
Obviously, this starts long before the contract is signed. A start-up's core team shapes its culture, ethos, and trajectory.

When hiring for a start-up, the stakes are high especially when hiring a business partner or a more senior role. These early members define processes, culture, and growth avenues.

I know that when you have a gap to fill (and sometimes the gap can be huge due to a recent leaver or a big new project) the natural instinct is to through a hire at it as soon as possible.

This may work in the short term, but not in the longer term.  If you need a quick gap to be filled, hire a contractor to maintain some of the work and then carry on with your recruitment process.

Key Takeaway: Take your time. Hiring isn’t a race. Ensure the fit is right in terms of skills, culture, and future vision.

2. Implement Mini-Tests for Junior Roles
Tests provide a tangible way to evaluate potential hires, especially for junior roles. It's not about scrutinising their every move but understanding their approach, creativity, and problem-solving capabilities. The tests should be short, relevant, and practical—reflecting real challenges they'd face in their role.

With Finance Manager up to HoF roles, I always have an excel test.  This isn't to test their excel knowledge specifically, as we all have ChatGPT now, but instead to see how they think about data, presentation and analysis.  It's amazing how often I've seen a brilliant "salesperson" in interview that says all the right things, but cannot do a simple analysis in excel.

Key Takeaway: It's one thing to have a glowing CV, but practical tests provide insights into an applicant's hands-on abilities and mindset.

3. Involve Future Business Partners
When hiring key roles, such as an FP&A Manager or even a Finance Director, it's beneficial to involve potential future business partners in the hiring process. These partners will often interact with the hire, and their perspective can be invaluable. Their feedback can shed light on aspects like compatibility, communication skills, and potential synergies.

If they have to work closely with these people then you want to ensure that they can work together, at least initially.  The last thing you want is a key business partner to totally clash almost on instinct, with a new hire.  Just not worth the risk, especially with smaller teams that you find in start-ups and fast growth businesses.  There is no where to hide and culture is very important.

Key Takeaway: A holistic view from multiple stakeholders ensures you're making an informed decision that benefits the company in the long run.

4. A Detailed 90-Day Onboarding Plan
Once you’ve hired the right person, the real work begins. Onboarding is more than just introductions and paperwork—it’s a strategic period to align new hires with company goals.

Weeks 1-3: Immersion and Orientation

Introduce the company's mission, vision, and objectives.
Provide comprehensive product or service training.
Assign a mentor or buddy for support if relevant.  

Weeks 4-6: Role-Specific Training and Goal Setting

Detail the expectations and KPIs.
Begin role-specific training and set short-term goals.

Weeks 7-9: Integration and Feedback Loops

Encourage new hires to take on projects.
Hold bi-weekly check-ins to address concerns and gather feedback.

Week 10-12: Evaluation and Future Planning

Conduct a comprehensive performance review.
Discuss future goals, potential growth paths, and gather feedback on the onboarding process.

Key Takeaway: A structured onboarding process ensures clarity for both the employer and the new hire. By the end of the 90-day probation period, both parties should have a clear picture of where they stand.

5. Firing Fast: The Difficult Decision
Despite best efforts, not every hiring decision will be a perfect fit. It's essential for Founders and Finance Directors to recognise when things aren't working out.

Holding onto employees that aren't fitting in can be detrimental to a start-up's fast-paced environment.

I've learnt this the hard way.  I held on to a candidate that I thought I could upskill and unfortunately I just couldn't.  Not only is it harder to let someone go after the probation period, but they really affected the rest of the high performing team, as they had to pick up the slack.  It really affected the team morale.

Key Takeaway: While letting someone go is never easy, it’s crucial to prioritise the company's  and team's overall health and morale.

While the rapid world of start-ups might push for swift decisions, hiring should be a thoughtful process. By hiring slow, investing in thorough onboarding, and being decisive when things don't work out, Founders and Finance Directors can navigate the complexities of start-up growth with confidence. The strength of your team is the backbone of your start-up's success.

Founders: if you need assistance with Hiring and Training an in-house finance team and moving away from an outsourced team - we have a DIY program that gives you all the tools & resources to implement this.  Contact us for more information.



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