As you enter the premises of any startup, the first impression you get is of vibrancy and youthful exuberance, quite unlike established companies where discipline and established order is the prominent theme.
There is a particular reason why startups are seen as a hotbed of remarkable innovation. It’s because of their “by the youth, of the youth” composition. A young mind is often unconstrained by established dogma. Disruptive unconventional thinking comes to them naturally.
But are youthful energy and innovation the only ingredients to business success? Don’t factors like experience, discipline, and composure matter? Of course, they do, and the best way to bring in these qualities into your team is to get a few senior members on board.
There are several apprehensions – and some of them genuine – in the mind of a young entrepreneur while considering a person older than himself to join his team, such as, “He might undermine my decisions/judgment”, “Will expect a salary commensurate to his experience, which I may not afford”, “Cannot gel with a team of youngsters”, “Will fall behind in the technological race”, and so on.
But with careful planning and clear communication, entrepreneurs can overcome these initial hiccups. You might find the cheat sheet below useful to tide over them!
Keeping up with fast-paced technological changes is probably one critical area where a young recruit would score over a senior candidate. But not all business functions in a startup are tied up with ever changing technology. Marketing, customer liaisons, funding pitches, general administration, governmental obligations, etc. are all areas where processes are somewhat conventional and past exposure can be a critical plus. A few illustrations will probably serve to clarify the point better.
Let’s say a startup is in the business of making defence components and solutions. The target customers are obviously the various military departments of the government. Managing the customer, in this case, requires an in-depth knowledge of the customer’s ecosystem. The best way to harness that knowledge is to rope in an ex-military man, probably someone out of a short service commission. This would enable quick access to the decision makers on the customer side and save crucial time in breaking entry barriers on the customer side.
Another instance is when a startup is considering backward integration into its supply chain. In this case, it helps to bring in a member from the supplier side into the team.
General administration such as planning office space, infrastructure requirements, food, or travel is also a function which a senior member will handle much better, as they don’t have to figure out things by trial and error.
Women returning to work after a personal break are an important source of suitable candidates for such roles. It’s a resource pool that is grossly underutilised, and a smart entrepreneur would do well to tap into this pool.
The designation offered to a senior candidate can be a tricky affair, especially when the senior candidate under consideration is older than the management team.
More than money, a respectable job title befitting their seniority would attract them. Startups can afford to be unconventional and innovative in their job titles, as they don’t have to conform to fixed designation bands and pay scales.
Product coach, support specialist, services director, brand strategist – fancy sounding designations such as these might serve to inspire the candidate. However, the company must clearly lay down the roles and responsibilities attached to the designation on offer, so that the candidate knows his/her exact position in the company.
Unlike an entry-level employee who likely only has to fend for himself/herself, a senior person is probably financially responsible for a family – kids’ education, home loans, medical expenses, etc. being some of his/her concerns. So insufficient take-home pay is a deal breaker in their case.
When startups are in the nascent stage, external funding is not yet through and the founders are still making do with their personal money. If senior candidates are being roped in at that stage, they must be clearly educated on the financial constraints. Unless the senior candidate is cushioned against financial contingencies, it’s not a feasible pick.
However, if the candidate is ready to fight it out through that stage, offering him/her attractive incentives such as a stake in the company, variable pay based on customer conversions, etc. would be a great idea. Remuneration is directly proportional to the value-add one brings to the company, irrespective of age and seniority. This point needs to be emphasized right at the start.
As one gets older, variety and constant change cease to be topmost priorities. Career stability and consolidation become more desirable. It is common knowledge that job attrition rates among the workforce in their 20s are considerably higher than those in the 30s-40s. Cash in on the inherent loyalty that senior employees have to offer.
While a 20-something on his first or second job wouldn’t pay much heed to a 3-5 year career growth path, a senior candidate would attach great importance to this. If the path eventually leads to the candidate becoming part of the top management, then so be it.
There must never be a deliberate attempt from the management to keep senior candidates away from younger colleagues. Just like a natural family structure consisting of the young and old, companies would also benefit from the synergy that develops between with mixed age groups.
Educate the younger lot to treat their senior counterparts with respect, and encourage the older lot to drop their reserve and have fun!
Do not make age a factor in any company policy, and you will realise that getting senior candidates on board is a lot simpler than you thought. Empathy, effective communication, and a shared vision are all that matters – age ain’t nothing but a number!