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How to attract and retain talents in scaleups?

On Tuesday May 10th the Partech Shaker "Shake & Learn" series returned in person for the first time since 2020. Experts from CoachHubHigh Flyers AgencySendinblueScalapay and Malt gathered to discuss the importance of having a talent management strategy.

For a scale-up in a hyper-growth phase, recruiting, developing and retaining talent is one of the top priorities. As it rises to power, the scale-up must structure its team and arm itself with exceptional talent to maintain this traction.


The first discussion was about talent acquisition and the second was about talent development and retention. Let’s get to know our speakers:

Charles Oldroyd is the Head of People at Scalapay, an innovative payments company. With 10 years’ experience gained at Danone where he moved from factories to HR, he then went on to build and manage several HR departments in tech startups. Charles shared his insight on talent acquisition.

Julie Ehrmann is the Chief of Staff at Sendinblue, a smart and intuitive, all-in-one digital marketing platform. Before joining the Sendinblue team she was a Senior Associate at Partech where she worked in the Growth team, which invests in European scale-ups. With 5 years of experience in investments Julie brought her investor perspective on talent recruitment and retention to the discussion.

Eugenie Chaltiel is the Founder and CEO of High Flyers Agency, a global talent strategy firm that specializes in structuring scale-up employees in France, the UK and the US. The company designs strategies for talent management and provides recruitment growth hackers to acting as business partners and career boosters as well as headhunters. Eugenie shared her experience on issues related to talent recruitment.

Julien Martino is the Head of Talent and People Development at Malt, a platform that helps businesses and people connect with freelancers that best suit their needs. With 10 years of experience in HR in global companies like L’Oreal, Julien discussed the need to develop and retain talents, particularly in times of hyper-growth.

Boris Allanic is the Vice-President France at CoachHub, a talent development platform that allows organizations to create a personalized, measurable and scalable coaching program for the entire team, no matter the department or seniority level. Boris was the Sales Director at MoovOne before it was acquired by CoachHub. He was the event moderator.


What is the meaning of work in today’s world – focusing on start-up and scale-up environments?

Julie, Charles and Eugenie discussed the idea of a good work environment in the modern world of work. Charles began by highlighting how some startups like to give this impression that their company is a great place to work because they have a ping-pong table and they have drinks every week and this surrounds the culture in startups. However, it is important not to get caught up in this and forget what the real basis of a good work environment is. He defines this as clear responsibilities, a manager who sets goals and helps you achieve them, regular feedback with the intention of making you evolve, and also feedback up and down the hierarchy. It’s very flashy on the outside but at the end of the day one must ask themselves who is going to be guiding me and are my responsibilities clear.

Eugenie agreed going on to talk about how many young recruits in startups don’t have a lot of training so at Highflyers Agency they have certain methods they put in place to make sure they are being guided in the right direction. They set up clear scorecards, and scales to measure skills and key achievements for the benefit of all parties involved.

Adding her VC perspective, Julie described how investors examine the work environment of companies they’re considering investing in. To evaluate it, they contact people they know in the network and previous employees to get a sense of the culture. When they meet the founders and managers, they gauge how the structure works with them and their employees. The management culture can be a deal breaker, the deciding factor for an investor when deciding to participate in a funding round or to opt out.

A startup may have a fantastic idea and product but a toxic work culture. This has a devastating effect on fundraising as Julie points out. This happened once, and it made her, and her team decide against investing. However, she also distinguished between when there are small things amiss with founders and when major red flags are apparent. When they view certain issues as solvable, they will still consider investing but consider coaching to iron out these issues.

The discussion moved on to what happens when a person who is not a good fit for the company is hired. Eugenie pointed out how this leads to cash-burning, the person being incapable of doing their job and a complete waste of time spent onboarding and training them in. Boris put a number on this bad investment pointing out that recruiting the wrong person can cost a company as much as 60,000 euros.


Remote work and making the jump from the big corp world

Charles acknowledged this but highlighted the reality that there are simply too many startups and scaleups for too little talent. So, the question is where to look? The asset that we have today is remote work. While it remains to be seen if hybrid or completely remote work is a viable solution for the long term, for now it is certainly helping with the talent shortages every company is facing. To deal with the Great Resignation, Charles also suggested branching away from the stereotypical profiles of people who have five years’ experience in B2B SaaS, for example. There are pools of talent elsewhere and without a doubt, there is massive potential in people who have worked in the corporate world. There will be challenges for people moving from a very structured, hierarchical organization, but people who possess real flexibility, agility, adaptability can succeed in making the transition easily.

As Charles discussed moving from the corporate world, naturally the next question to arise was that of pay and benefits. He feels that if you really want to move to a different environment you have to take the paycut, take the risk, take the smaller job, and he sees it as a step back to advance further in the long term.

Eugenie noted as well that with the jump from big corp world to the startup one you’re also taking a functional leap. If you work in marketing in a big corp, it’s not the same as marketing in a startup, you might be taking a cut in finances but benefitting from a rise in competencies.

People must ask themselves if they wish to continue climbing the corporate ladder and have all the security and benefits it provides or if they really want to challenge themselves and learn something new. Asking themselves this question will tell whether the jump is for you or not.


The importance of velocity, clarity and practicality

Having made the leap from a corporate company to a startup, Charles described the change in pace from one environment to the other. In a startup you’re thinking about the results at the end of the next day, the next week, and this makes everyone’s goals aligned, making things a lot clearer. Perhaps people have a certain idea of working in a startup being fun and laid back but, in reality, it is very fast-paced, hard and pressurized.

As well as providing clarity on this, it is important to provide clarity from the very beginning of the recruitment process. High Flyers Agency recommends an ultra-straightforward process, keeping candidates in the loop for the entirety of the process. A fast process is essential to keep the best candidates on board – no two-week lags between interviews and a streamlining of the entire operation into a three-week period. Julie agreed with Eugenie on this, stating the importance of efficiency and coherency throughout the procedure.

Charles talked about how it is absolutely necessary to have a practical exercise in the recruitment process. Even though it is important to go quickly in the process it is important not to forget how important it is to test someone practically.


A volatile world

How can startups deal with providing a career plan to those who need to constantly evolve with no hierarchical structure in place like there is in the corporate world?

As there is no clearly defined career path and things are likely to change in the blink of an eye, with extremely fast growth rates and evolutions like internationalization taking place for startups, it can be difficult to accommodate. It is therefore imperative that candidates don’t arrive with a set idea and are willing to move with the changes and keep pace.

Charles likes to ask candidates at the end of every interview, “are you ready to change jobs in six months? Because it’s not going to be the same job you’re doing.” Whether the person outgrows the job, or the job outgrows the person, it must be accepted that this is not personal but simply part of the mechanics of the evolution of startups.


The Malt perspective and the impact of coaching

Julien from Malt took the floor for our second discussion with Boris and Julie staying to participate in this one too.

Boris began by asking Julien to define talent. His answer was that it’s very contextual, and there is not a definitive answer, so they evaluate it specifically to each position at Malt. They look at the performance, potential and level of engagement to measure this.

When he started at Malt there was no real talent management strategy so he implemented different things, from pay changes to job levelling with clearly defined levels of training. He partnered with experts to train people and upscale the whole team.

When it comes to diversity and inclusion, Julien uses data to measure the ratio of genders in the firm so as to maintain a good ratio of women to men. He also believes that it is very important to measure salary levels of men and women because this is the first step to taking corrective action.

Many firms, including Malt, are very focused on talent acquisition but Julien highlighted the importance of talent development within the team that is already established, especially the back-office team who may be sometimes overlooked.

Julie added to this pointing out that there must be a good structure already in place in the company before worrying about acquiring additional talent. She explained how structuring HR teams is beginning to change and becoming more of a priority earlier on in a company’s development trajectory.

In terms of retaining talent in the times of massive resignation Julien tracks the talent that leaves and not all of the employees, because everyone who leaves is not necessarily a talent to the company. Julie gave an investors’ perspective to this discussion stating how high turnover is not necessarily a red flag in the investment decision, but that investors do look at it as an indicator of a company’s culture and health, and look at whether its key talents leaving very quickly or if it is specific to a certain team.

At Malt they coach team members in terms of where they’re at in the company, grouping C-levels, managers and young graduates into their respective groups. Julien highlighted that if young graduates don’t have a lot of experience, they look at how they react when they don’t know what to do and their practical exercises as a means of measuring their abilities.

Julien, Julie and Boris then discussed the educational backgrounds of candidates, the importance of diversity in educational paths and also the importance of networking.

When it comes to acquisitions and the merging of two teams of talents, Julie discussed how at Sendinblue they focus on the product integration primarily while focusing on getting the best out of everyone across all teams, the most important thing being to take it slow with implementing these changes.

Then there were some questions from the audience about career advancement and the difference between becoming a manager and becoming an expert as a means of progression. Julie returned to the idea of fast-paced change and how jobs evolve over time and different vocations are created, that it’s not necessarily the case that you just become a manager over time. Vertical and horizontal evolution and progression were also debated.

The final advice given by our four fantastic speakers was to prepare well for interviews, create a culture of feedback, always prioritize communication, recruit for the job at hand in the face of uncertainty and Charles even recommended his favorite book for some summer reading on the beach - “Radical Candor” by Kim Scott.


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Learn more about the companies present at the event by visiting their websites:

CoachHub

High Flyers Agency

Sendinblue

Scalapay

Malt



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