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How your start-up can build a superstar team

How your start-up can build a superstar team

How your start-up can build a superstar team

All business owners will have, or have had, to go through the process of hiring their first employee.

For some founders, a new hire is a welcome relief to share the workload and delegate responsibility whereas, for others, letting go of the reins and spending money on a salary can be a daunting experience. Your business is, after all, your baby.

Yet, the fact remains that making that first hire – and subsequent hires – will put your business on track to achieving higher growth, greater productivity, and make your business more efficient in the long-run.

Top talent holds the key to business success which is why Plusnet, and, brought together a panel of recruitment and business experts to share their experiences and knowledge of hiring and managing staff at the Plusnet Pioneers Talent Masterclass.

The panel, which boasted HR180 founder Claire Morley-Jones, Plusnet CEO Andy Baker, Karmarama HR director Jo Harman and Hiring Hub co-founder Simon Swan, contributed to a thought-provoking discussion covering everything from the best interview questions to attracting talent when you can’t offer large salaries.

Of course, talent isn’t just about hiring employees.

Once you’ve made great hires, you then have to retain them or risk losing your business time, resource and money. With that in mind, The Talent Masterclass also focused on essential ways to manage and motivate your employees once you’ve hired them.

We’ve included crucial learnings from our Talent Masterclass below so get reading for the best ways to find and keep talent to build a better business…

The Talent Masterclass panel

Simon Swan, Co-founder of Hiring Hub - Number of employees: 19 
Simon SwanSimon Swan
Andy Baker, CEO of Plusnet – Number of employees: 1,200

Andy BakerAndy Baker








Jo Harman, HR director of Karmarama – Number of employees: 250
Jo HarmanJo Harman







Claire Morley- Jones, Founder of HR180 – Number of employees: 14

Claire Morley-Jones, founder of HR180Claire Morley-Jones, founder of HR180





Hiring talent

Look for chemistry fit

Simon Swan:

“We were quite conservative when we started hiring. We started the business with no funding so we weren’t paying ourselves when we took on our first employee. There are two co-founders at Hiring Hub and for us to bring someone in to do one specific task and make that financial commitment was a [big thing]. I don’t think we were particularly great at hiring people at the time but we were very lucky because from a chemistry fit they worked well and they delivered.

“What we didn’t realise was the immediate impact [that hire] would have on the company. In the space of a few weeks they took on a lot and the business grew as a result. We took on employees two to five much sooner.

“Taking the initiative was scary but [hiring] transformed our business.”

Consider the business case for taking on an employee

Andy Baker:

“Confidence to make a hire [is so important].

“Everyone can look through the lens at the business case: ’If I hire this person, I’m going to do this much more business and [the hire] is going to cost me this much.’ The first is bigger than the other, hopefully, and therefore hiring is a sensible thing to do.

“Quite often the benefits of having that person gets lost by ‘let’s just look at the cost’ and ‘let’s be more hesitant and less confident’.”

Hire for attitude, not skills

Jo Harman:

“For a small business, particularly, you have to hire for attitude. If the person hasn’t got the right attitude or culture fit, it’s not going to work. If you’re a large organisation, that should endure.

“You’ll learn about their attitude by asking the person targeted questions about their work and their quality standards, whilst large companies can do psycho-metric testing or perhaps more targeted ways of finding that.”

Be clear and concise on job description

Andy Baker:“Writing a job description and a set of objectives for a role isn’t a bureaucratic exercise, it’s actually letting someone know where the role starts and ends and what they are accountable for. You see businesses that go through the exit process with an employee and it’s because they haven’t had a clear process of where the role starts and ends.”

Ask telling interview questions

Claire Morley-Jones:“Make sure you have very specific questions that will elicit evidence from the person as to who they are. We have some weird questions like ‘How lucky do you feel?’ as that helps us gauge whether someone judges the glass as half empty or half full. If it’s half empty then they shouldn’t work with us! Or we ask ‘If you were a cartoon character, who would you be?’

“There are obviously questions where we test the candidate’s HR skills and technical skills but there are questions where we want to find out who they are. “

Jo Harman: “Don’t be afraid to reference. The talent pool you can hire from might be quite small but some very targeted reference questions can often be useful.”

If you’ve got a tight budget to hire staff, compensate your employees in different ways:

Claire Morley-Jones:“I had work for the person and it was work that I didn’t want to do [but] the challenge was finding someone that I could afford to pay – I had to be really innovative when I started up. I realised that the village I was living in had a lot of high-powered business women who had had their first or second child and couldn’t work full time.

“I understood that I could attract them if I could offer them flexibility and something fulfilling, challenging and meaningful for them to do in their life for £20,000 less than they had originally been on. I put notices around a couple of the villages and this amazing lady, who was a trained HR manager joined me.”

Don’t be afraid to give up some of your responsibilities

Andy Baker: “Be confident that you can delegate and let go. This isn’t just small business behaviour but anyone recruiting into a new role needs to leave enough space around a role to make it effective.

“The smaller the team, the more important it is that you’re able to let go of things. There’s no point hiring someone if you’re then going to do the same role as them.”

Think creatively when advertising a job vacancy

Jo Harman:“I used to work in telecoms at quite a competitive time in the market. One of the recruitment managers commissioned a sign writer to write a recruitment sign with a phone number on the side of a van. They then parked the van outside the office of the competitor and just left it there.

“I’m not necessarily advocating that you take that approach but it was a great opportunity to raise the brand profile in a slightly cheeky way.”

Find talent on social media

Andy Baker:“Social media gives us all such a huge opportunity to start to get to know people in our industry and geography.

“Plusnet spends a lot of time building out maps of people, either through LinkedIn or other social media tools, and using that to build relationships with people. You can start to engage with potential candidates a long time before you need to recruit for a role.”

Generalist or specialist? Hire a generalist when starting out

Simon Swan:“In the early days, you need a generalist to do a bit of everything. Nowadays, it takes up a big proportion of our time to find people for specific departments and to try and figure out who will be the best fit.”


Jo Harman:“You do need to hire people who are generalists in mentality, who will roll up their sleeves and, even if they haven’t done something before, will rise to the challenge.”

Managing talent

Foster great company culture

Jo Harman:“A few weeks ago, we won an award from The Sunday Times for the innovative practices we use to attract employees. This came about from a strange source: we took inspiration from the 1970s gang movie Warriors, which sounds like a bizarre thing to do. We decided to create a house system or a gang system in our organisation to be able to build that small, special company culture.

,p>“We were able to segment staff and use that gang experience to make people feel like they were part of something and to get them to meet people from other departments. What started as an idea six months ago has turned into something we’ve won an award for. To feel like a small company in a large company is a big achievement.”


Andy Baker:“We still have an amazing sense of team and fun about our business.

“We’ve managed to preserve the feeling of being a small business. We do a lot of work with local charities and raise a lot of money – it’s about being able to get the best out of your team.”

Believe in your employees and invest in their success

Andy Baker: “You’ve got to get the right balance between supporting and challenging your employees – and you need to be a personal role model for them.

“One of the ways I’ve driven the team and helped create the culture of Plusnet is by introducing an annual ‘CEO Challenge’. I encourage teams of up to five people to come and take £20 of my personal money and fundraise as much as they can with it. We really want to encourage entrepreneurial thinking. It’s a good example of how you can encourage that small business entrepreneurial mindset in a big business.”

Claire Morley-Jones: “I’ve elicited the best performance from my team by having complete passion in them, their careers and their success.

“By supporting your staff you gain loyalty and commitment because there is trust and respect on both sides. I’m not sure that all businesses recognise that; that their employees have their own lives and dreams and aspirations. Together you can be really successful.”

…But fire an employee, if you really need to

Simon Swan:“You should never be too precious about getting the hiring exactly right because you’re going to make mistakes. I’ve been in interviews – particularly on the sales side – where they’ve been fantastic and I’ve been convinced that I’ve found someone that will help the company and it’s not just worked out.

“It can be difficult but every time I’ve done it, the team has responded really well because the guys have been working with that person and knew they were not capable or pulling their weight.”

Claire Morley-Jones:“The businesses we work with have an expectation of something that should be done or how it should be done and sometimes they don’t necessarily communicate this with staff. It can build up to ‘They now have to go’ but that person may have no idea that they’ve done anything wrong so it’s about being honest and transparent.

“Look at yourself first – it’s very easy to blame the other person – but think about whether you’ve done everything you’d want if you were the employee.

“If you’ve done that and they still need to go. We would recommend going through a capability process if that person is not very good at the job. If it’s theft, that would be conduct and you should go through a disciplinary process.”

Jo Harman:“There have been many situations where I’ve been called in late to resolve performance issues and you find that it’s actually been going on for two years and by that time it’s built up into such a massive thing and it’s much harder to remove that person from the business.

“Use the probation period carefully. Look at whether it’s working at four weeks, eight weeks, 12 weeks and don’t be afraid to extend the probation if it’s not working properly or call it early – as long as you’ve given the person the chance to give feedback and have managed expectations.”

Plusnet is on a mission to help small businesses and budding entrepreneurs grow and has teamed up with to create Plusnet Pioneers, an exciting programme of content, events and mentoring. Views were expressed at a Talent Masterclass held as part of the Plusnet Pioneers programme. Article written by and first published on .

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