How To Attract People To Your Startup Through Learning & Development

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Karina Brown, co-founder at employee growth startup GroHappy, discusses how offering good learning and development can give start-ups the edge in the talent war.

Sometimes it can feel like an uphill battle to attract the right people to work for your startup. Especially when resources are limited and you cannot financially compete with larger companies.

Startups are built on hard work, blood, sweat and probably a few tears along the way. You can’t do it alone, you’ll need a brilliant team behind you to ensure success. Thankfully, generous pay packages, free food, and ping pong tables aren’t quite the attractive propositions that they once were. So if your recruitment budget can’t quite stretch to a dedicated nap pod, don’t worry too much. Instead, focus on the overall ‘deal’ that a new employee gets – including their opportunities for growth, learning and career development.

Development Has Become A Huge Incentive

Millennials, in particular, have been noted as being more attracted to organizations that offer good development opportunities compared to previous generations. This is notable since they already make up much of the workforce and their influence and importance are only set to grow as they progress in their careers. Attracting younger workers to your startup could, therefore, pay dividends in the long term. Especially since they’re also more likely to share stuff about their employers online. Hiring happy Millennials could boost your overall reputation as a great employer.

Of course, everyone in a company will benefit from a good development culture. We’d all appreciate having more opportunities to learn and grow – it also shows that an employer is invested in the wellbeing and overall career of its workforce. Learning and development (L&D) have a tangible influence on employee retention with people leaving a company 38% more likely to feel that they had little development opportunities in their soon-to-be-ex workplace. It also links to greater job satisfaction, motivation and productivity.

Developing a strong development culture, therefore, won’t just attract new talent but also keep hold of them for longer.

L&D And Startups Are An Ideal Match

Luckily for startup founders, the kind of people that are attracted to working for them tend to be ambitious and growth-minded. The nature of work in a startup requires a certain kind of person, one who is happy to wear a lot of different hats and muck in when needed. Startup environments suit people who want to gain experience – which ties in well with L&D.

Startup employees are likely to be motivated to learn right from the get-go. They also want their company to be successful, because if it hits the big time then there’s a chance for quick career development.

In fact, some established companies have admitted to struggling with keeping step with startups. We recently spoke to the former CEO of an innovation consultancy who confided that her industry found it increasingly tough to retain talent. Often, employees in traditional organizations are tempted to move to a startup to work in more senior roles earlier in their career. This is something that’s compounded by social media (again, a largely Millennial habit) – startups are hard to ignore when your old university roomie has become a CCO before her thirties.

Then there’s the huge perk of people being able to make a role their own in a startup. Don’t underestimate the attraction of autonomy. This attracts a certain kind of employee who may be less concerned with pay and more about the wider benefits they’re getting.

Startups Have An Edge Over Traditional Companies

That means that startups tend to have an edge over more established organizations. Many traditional companies now offer some form of L&D as a strategic priority (because it holds so many benefits for employer and employee). So startup founders should embrace a similar initiative, but with a distinct advantage: their employees are already the type to engage with L&D.

To Get Started: Set A Budget

Any new initiative needs a budget. L&D is no exception, although the budget doesn’t have to be extortionate. GroHappy itself is a startup but we’re committed to giving every employee a £600 annual budget to spend on training. One team member used this to re-skill as a Product Manager – meaning they’ve found a new career that they love and GroHappy benefits from the additional skills.

Even setting a small budget is a step in the right direction and it can be supplemented by a dedicated time during the week to learn, or company-wide development projects.

Don’t limit your employees to just work-related training either. More people are realizing that work feeds into (and should complement) a wider lifestyle. Culture Amp has a budget allocation that can be used on anything, from software-specific training to wine tasting.

Give People The Time They Need

Of course, a budget is only going to be useful to someone if they have the time to spend it. L&D should become part-and-parcel of the workday. This can be tough to implement in a startup where there often aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. In which case, either divide development tasks up into more bite-sized chunks to fit into the work week or have a specific day every month for personal development. Test a few different timings over a couple of months to find the rhythm that works for your company.

Talk About Development

It’s vital to get everyone on-board with L&D for your company to realize the benefits. Rewarding people for certain training or development milestones can be an effective way to encourage participation.

Alternatively, if an employee or team have recently had some interesting training arrange an informal session for others in the organization to learn about it. That way, you don’t keep knowledge locked into one part of your company.

Have One-On-One Career Conversations

As well as talking about L&D company-wide, you should also have one-on-one discussions with every employee. Have a regular dialogue about their careers, discuss what they are happy about, where they want to develop and how your company can help. This will identify any development gaps and potential next-steps or opportunities.

Make L&D Uniquely Yours

Every development culture is going to be unique, and therein lies its power. You’ll want your culture to reflect the strengths and characteristics of your startup. Make sure it ties to your goals, values, and anything else that’s unique about your company. After all, that’s why a recruit would choose to work for you over anywhere else.



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