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How to Retain Top Talent in a Startup Environment

Learning how to retain top talent in a startup environment now will position you for successful strategic growth in the future.

In a rapid-growth startup, demands can be high, budgets can be low, and processes can be lacking, so it’s no surprise that the average employee tenure in that environment is roughly two years. On a more positive note, recent statistics show that employees who make it past that critical two-year mark tend to stick around. Here are the best ways to retain your top talent in a startup.

Set Expectations Early

One of the best things you can do to retain talent in this environment is to be honest during the recruiting phase. An interview is a time to assess a candidate's skills, experience, and culture fit. However, don't neglect the opportunity to tell candidates what they should expect as your employee. They also need to determine if your company is the right fit. The more you know about each other’s wants and needs, the more successful your employer-employee relationship will be.

For example, as a startup, you may not be able to offer candidates salaries that compete with more established companies. This is obvious to you as an employer, but to a young candidate or someone new to the startup environment, it may not be. Be upfront and set realistic expectations about what you can offer. It may sound negative, but in doing so, you are more likely to find someone who is the right fit - not only in terms of skill set but in terms of culture and career path.

Create a Great Culture and Work To Keep It

Speaking of culture, it’s easy to lose the company culture you’ve created as your startup grows. To avoid this, establish company values early on and integrate them into every business decision. Each time you add a new process, function, or position, ask yourself how it fits into your company values and the culture you want to maintain. It’s common for early employees to feel uneasy about the growing pains that come along with a larger team. As you grow, focus on how you can scale current employee-focused initiatives, such as recognition, celebrations, and more.

One thing you can do is establish a dedicated culture keeper team. Ask long-term employees if they’d like to serve on a culture committee. Their experience and feedback will be vital to retention as your company grows.

Invest In Training and Development

Proper training and development are critical in a startup environment. Regardless of how talented your team is, roles may become tedious or may be impacted by new processes, programs, etc. As your company grows, provide opportunities for employees to continue learning. Give them something to strive for, whether that’s a new position, a mentoring opportunity, or the chance to learn a new skill. All these things contribute to higher employee engagement scores. They also help employees to feel recognized, create a culture of growth, increase teamwork, and boost productivity. And the best part, they help have the right skills in your team that will lead to you achieving your company goals!

Work with someone in Human Resources to develop appropriate career paths based on skills, experience, and interests. Make sure these paths aren’t buried in paperwork or only discussed once a year. In addition, you can bring in subject matter experts for lunch and learns or webinars. Ask your employees what they want to learn and where they want to go with the company. If they know you are aware and committed to their growth, they’re much more likely to stick around.

Ask, Listen, and Respond

Lastly, as your team grows, ask for - and respond to - feedback. If you notice an increase in employee turnover, there is a reason; and it’s your job to find out what that reason is. Surveys, exit interviews, and other feedback cannot be one-sided. They are a starting point for a conversation and change.

For example, if your turnover recently increased, you could use exit interviews and surveys to determine why. If the increase is due to salary, something you cannot currently change, remember to circle back to setting expectations early on. If it’s due to growth opportunities, ask employees what kind of opportunities they’re hoping for and see what you can do about it. Whatever the problem and whatever your solution, employees need to know they were heard, action is being taken, when that action is being taken, and what that action is.

Summary: How to Retain Top Talent In a Startup Environment

With the significant amount of time and money involved in recruiting the right talent, leaders need to factor retention strategies into their overall human resources planning from day one. Now is the time to plan for success. Implement these key strategies so you can retain top talent in your startup.

  • Set expectations early, starting with the recruitment process

  • Create a great culture and work to keep it

  • Invest in employee training and development

  • Ask your employees what they want and need, listen to their answers, and respond


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