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This Fix Could Dramatically Improve Your Startup—and Potentially Save You Millions

You’re two years into your tech startup journey. You’ve got a new client meeting at 9 a.m. At 10 a.m., you’re sitting in on a product development call. At 11 a.m., you’re meeting with a marketing expert to discuss outreach. By noon, you’ll be exhausted; you’re tired from working the past seven days, but you feel too guilty to take a break since you need to keep your startup afloat.

Running an organization comes with so many responsibilities, it’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day tasks aimed at generating revenue. You feel compelled to think from a financial point of view, putting everything else second. The bottom line comes first, right?

Wrong. If you take a step back, you’ll realize that by focusing on finances, you’ve put your talent on the back burner.

When was the last time you had a one-on-one meeting with a nonexecutive at your company to discuss career goals? How long has it been since you’ve considered your company culture—not the one described on your website, but the one clearly present in your company interactions? When was the last time you thought of your employees rather than your products?

The cost of putting talent second is greater than you think

By putting your customers, service, or products first, you’re encouraging employee disengagement. Put yourself in your people’s shoes: If employees don’t feel connected to your vision and their needs aren’t considered, they won’t be interested in your business; they’ll just be interested in their wages.

According to Gallup’s 2023 State of the Global Workplace, only 32% of employees are engaged at work. The remaining disengaged workers? They’re costing organizations $450–$550 billion per year, according to one study on workplace engagement. This monetary loss isn’t solely from a lack of productivity; it oftentimes is from losing employees altogether.

Take this example: Let’s assume you have a high-performing salesperson who met their $2 million sales quota in year one. Out of the blue, they leave. Because you didn’t have a talent strategy in place to retain and develop this person, you don’t know their reason for leaving. During their exit interview, they may not have been honest or told you.

The task of replacing this person may fall to an internal recruiter, or you might hire any number of recruiting agencies to find your next sales superstar. Either way, you’re expending time and resources on replacing someone who, by all accounts, should still be on your team.

Recruiting for sales is trickier than ever. While it takes an average of two months to fill a role, I’ve spoken with countless founders and executives who haven’t found quality sales candidates three to four months into their search! Add another nine months for a new employee to get up to speed, and the opportunity cost of not having your superstar salesperson in that seat is well over $2 million.

To determine the total loss, consider training expenses and non-recoverable draws paid to your former salesperson. But you’re not done yet. What about harder-to-measure costs, like low morale rippling through your teams from this person’s departure? Or the increased risk of burnout among those who have to pick up the slack? Or the opportunity costs that occur while the position is left unfilled? It adds up, and not always in visible or easily calculable ways.

This is bad enough if your organization happens to have mastered the art and science of recruiting. But if you’re among the 74% of organizations with an unoptimized recruiting approach, you risk hiring someone who doesn’t have the right skills for the role.

What’s the solution? Rather than focusing solely on making money, you need to refocus your attention on your talent.

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Taking a talent-first approach

Engaging your employees starts with shifting your company from being customer-, product-, or service-centric to being talent-centric. Of course, your products and customers are important, but no matter what, your people must be priority number one.

Where should you begin?

Align your executive team.

To be a talent-centric startup, your leadership team must be on the same page. Why would employees want to work with leaders who each want to accomplish different things? (They wouldn’t.)Get everyone together and ask: What’s the company’s vision? What’s our strategy to get there? Which department contributes most to our success? Hiring a consultant with the right knowledge and experience to come in and ask questions like these will allow for honest answers and a path forward to full alignment.

Revisit your recruiting strategy.

Once your leaders are leading their respective employees in the same direction, you can create or revise your recruiting strategy. Becoming talent-centric is about finding people who are truly a great fit for your company. But who will find them? Who will handle recruiting? Are you primarily relying on a “post and pray” strategy, randomly posting job listings and praying the right person finds them? This method is hardly effective.

As a leader and founder, you must be involved in the recruiting process. After all, who knows your company’s ins and outs and vision better than you? Hire and work closely with a search firm or train internal recruiters to find and attract the people you want.

Give your people opportunities to grow.

Hiring a new employee doesn’t guarantee they’ll want to stay with you for the long haul. You’ve got to pay attention to them, ask about their needs, and invest in their growth. If not, someone else will.

Schedule one-on-one meetings with workers to see how you can help them meet their individual goals. Maybe your newly hired manager dreams of becoming an executive. Perhaps your lead developer wants to learn new AI skills. The extra attention you give employees will translate into a better company.

Create an honest company culture.

When was the last time you heard from a lower-level employee? Honest employees are engaged employees. Not to mention, hearing their opinions will improve your company.

There’s only one way to foster this culture: You must “be” the culture. It starts with you and your leadership team. Call an in-person, all-hands-on-deck meeting and let everyone know you’re committed to creating a culture of feedback—where anyone at any level can approach colleagues or higher-ups and be listened to without fear of repercussions.This is a slow process that, when built over time, will keep you abreast of issues you may have never known before. Ultimately, it’s a key factor in an employee’s decision to stay or go.

Talent first, talent first, talent first!

Every day, I work with business leaders who know things aren’t working as they should, but they aren’t sure why. Some are hemorrhaging talent, others are grappling with disengaged teams, and some have no insight into their employees’ issues and opinions.It all comes back to one thing: You must take a talent-centric approach to your business.

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