Recruiting, engaging and retaining talent: how founders can wear their HR hat with panache

Founders wear many hats but the HR hat often sits uncomfortably.

In fact, for many founders, the HR aspect of their role is seen as more of a ‘gut’ decision than one that comes from the head.

And it’s not just the recruitment hat that gets worn at a jaunty angle: onboarding and effective management likewise can often sit awkwardly with the head of the business.

The potential end result of this is inappropriate hires, lost talent, plummeting staff happiness and explosive team chemistry.

Simply because there is no formal HR manager in place it shouldn’t mean that the vision and social skills of the founder is all that recruitment and retention rely on.

Here’s how founders can hire the talent they need and hold on to their happy teams.


Operational decisions – such as recruiting – are critical to achieving growth.

Here are the things you overlook at your peril:


The first thing to note is that employment contracts are not an optional extra.

It does not matter if you have one or one thousand employees, the same laws apply. Make sure you have formal working agreements in place when hiring new personnel. Not only is it the law it is also your first step toward creating an environment your talent feels comfortable and secure in.


The second essential here is onboarding.

This is not a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘must have’, even if it falls to you as the founder to arrange.

Onboarding is:

  • Your chance to bond with new colleagues.
  • Their chance to feel at home and confident in their role.
  • Their chance to feel valued as they join the team.


While it’s perfectly natural to want to ‘sell’ your vision to potential employees, it is advisable to hold back on the hype.

Of course, you are competing against many other startups and large, established corporates in the talent market so you need to emphasise the opportunities you offer. But going overboard in painting prospects or comparing your company culture is setting yourself up for a fall.


Your HR hat can not simply be hung up once that dream team is assembled: you’ve now got to create the right conditions for everyone to stay.

In many ways this is less cultural than procedural, although having processes in place certainly will help.

Finding drivers

Understanding what motivates each employee – and addressing this – is critical here.

For many employees opting to join a startup a key driver can be the desire to make a difference – make sure their role allows for this or create specific tasks they can own to allow for this.

Receiving feedback

The best way to understand drivers is to spend time, one-to-one, with each employee. Make this their time and ask questions that help them to vocalise their desires. Listening, practising empathy and developing emotional intelligence are key skills here.

Beyond catch-ups there are many other ways you can try and foster effective communication. A great starting point is making sure you explicitly operate a culture of transparency and discussion. Make it clear that everyone can voice their opinion and ensure that feedback is welcomed and never undervalued or ignored. You must also, of course, be seen to consider and action feedback.

Creating space for growth

Professional development is the glue that bonds retention. You need to ensure both the personal and professional growth of your co-workers.

This may mean approving pet projects or branching out an employee in a way that doesn’t guarantee immediate benefits.

It may mean offering to pay for any books for self-development – no questions asked. It may mean sponsoring a project or activity outside of work. Or, it may just be helping set up a website/blog/forum while you wait for a training grant to hit.

As ever it is not always what you do that matters: it’s being there to do something.

The HR hat

Your staff lie at the heart of your business: they are a key engine of its growth.

They make things happen and they make things worthwhile.

And for that alone it’s worth wearing that HR hat with panache and pride.