Fireside chat on hiring & firing
Paper boy, sandwich slinger or background music pianist: even the sharpest minds in Venture Capital all had to start somewhere with a (not so) fondly remembered first job. This question of ‘what was your first summer job’ was posted by Laura Cramer, representing the gracious host of the evening, Social Impact Ventures, as an introduction to the difficult quandaries facing VC’s when recruiting, hiring and retaining teams for portfolio companies. VC is after all largely a people business, since the success of early stage companies hinges on the functioning of the small teams.
The inaugural and perhaps even a bit experimental first fireside chat of the VEECEE Community was an opportunity for senior VC’s to engage in a constructive dialogue with one of the biggest names in recruiting and hiring, Jos Schut. His career started out on his parents’ farm, where he worked as a farm hand for much of his early life. Since then, his career has taken him to the absolute summit of well, jobs. As CHRO of Randstad he serves as the leading specialist at the biggest human resource company in the world. A job not without challenges; leading an organisation comprised of HR specialists who are all know-it-alls in the field is not for the faint of heart.
Never recruit for a job
Schut had a couple of interesting takes for the group. First of all, never recruit for a job, but always for a career – somebody might fit a specific task at the moment, but if there’s no path to growth or a future in the company the hire will surely fail. ‘Be clear on what you are’ was the second mantra he impressed on the group. Never oversell or enter a recruitment process without a very clear case of what the company is about, because disappointment and unmet expectations are the leading causes of employee dissatisfaction. Oh, and do away with annual appraisal too; these backward-looking talks are largely discredited by research carried out by Randstad: forward-looking assessments and concurrent monitoring are much more useful.
Besides picking the brains of one of the biggest names in HR right now the fireside chat was an excellent opportunity for the VC’s to swap tips on the recruitment process. For instance, many VC’s find it difficult to assess the technical chops of the people needed for the more specialist programming jobs – bringing along the best coder from another portfolio company to an interview greatly helps to quickly sort out the best talent. The group also had a lively discussion on a problem that turns up time and time again in the building of fast-growing companies: the easiest, quickest and most sure-fire way to recruit new talent is to tap into existing networks, but by doing so the team diversity is comprised, because networks tend towards uniformity. Methods and tools to break this cycle were eagerly discussed. Not all the topics raised were at the positive side of HR: besides hiring, firing was discussed at length as well, especially the difficult topic of dealing with founders that are unable to keep up with the growth of their company.
HR tech is heating up
Randstad itself was at the meeting not only to share knowledge, but also as a participant, being represented by its very own venture capital fund aimed unsurprisingly at HR tech. This space is rapidly heating up with many new apps, tools and data management practices hitting the scene, a development Randstad can ill afford to miss. Schut personally tests and reviews many of these innovations with his own teams before releasing them to capillary branches of his organisation. An important thing, he said, because as soon as management starts to solidify into set practices the growth stops.
All in all the fireside chat was a great example of how worldwide strategic parties like Randstad incorporate the latest developments from the early stage field and at the same time provide a great example of the path to growth and the managing of HR at scale of a more mature company. Besides, the open-ended and lively conversation set the standard for more talks like this in the future.