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Most good things in life are driven by passion. Passion and purpose. These twin Ps are what caused me to create my company Hyperion Executive Search. Hyperion have become a global leader in executive search in the cleantech sector. And it gives the whole team a huge buzz that we are helping some of the most innovative and promising cleantech companies the help they need to scale. Vicariously we make our impact on climate change and air-pollution, as well as helping entrepreneurs succeed, and awesome candidates find their perfect ‘home’. But the P’s kept pushing. What more could I do to both learn more about what makes cleantech companies, start-ups and entrepreneurs succeed, and how could I share that learning to benefit others, and to inspire them to go on a journey of their own?

Because of my day job, I speak with leading figures in the cleantech industry day in and day out. I have to find out everything that makes my clients tick, what makes them a great place to work, what makes them succeed. I also have to keep on top of industry and technology developments, and because of this I have a network of industry insiders with whom I regularly speak and share our mutual insights and learning. So a podcast seemed a logical way to sate those twin P’s. I could feed my passion and expand my purpose.

I thought at first I could do it as a hobby, the occasional episode, a ‘fireside chat’ with some clients, friends and colleagues. If you hear the very first episode with eMobility legend and friend Roger Atkins you’ll get the picture. The problem was I really enjoyed it, and I got plenty of positive feedback. In hindsight I think at first they we’re just being nice! All the same, those twin P’s kept pushing, surely one episode a week wouldn’t be difficult, after all, I know so many people in the sector!?

The truth is I loved every conversation on every episode, just as I love every conversation I have with every client and contact, whether one to one, on the phone, or at trade shows and conferences. I think it is also true that at first I loved having the conversations, and thought a little less about the audience, and my ‘purpose’ to share and to inspire others to succeed in the cleantech sector. But the more downloads, follows and feedback I got the more I realised it wasn’t just me enjoying the conversations. The one piece of negative feedback I got though was over the audio quality at times. So I’ve invested in new microphones, software, production and editing etc. Now, I still don’t expect it to be radio quality, it’s not my day job, or what pays the bills, but I do hope you’ll notice the improvement, and that the better audio makes it easier to listen to and learn from the amazing people I’m fortunate to interview.

I’m now 7 months, and 25 episodes into my podcasting ‘career’. Almost one a week, missing some over Christmas, and a few whilst travelling. But travelling I’ve also been able to record face to face with some awesome client CEO’s, in the US, Germany and Netherlands in particular.

I know that I have had some truly inspirational CEOs share their stories, from bootstrapping to major investment or acquisition. Christoph Ostermann, CEO of Sonnen and Kristof Vereenooghe, CEO of EVBox stand out. Both had local companies when I met them, 30-40 employees, and now are both global entities acquired by Shell and ENGIE respectively. How did that work? Take a listen and hear! There have also been some brilliant CEOs at the start of their journey, like Dr Fabian Lemke of Noventura. We’ve also had some great industry insiders like energy storage expert at BNEF Logan Goldie-Scott and Forbes under 30 alumni Marek Kubik. We’ve also had some awesome investor tips from Petr Mikovec of Inven Capital, and Jan Michael Hess of Ecosummit. I’m going to force myself to stop now as I genuinely feel all 25 guests have been great. I would though love to know which you’ve enjoyed best and why.

I guess the pressure is now on, to continue to improve the production quality and keep the highest standards of guests. I really hope that the podcast does inspire some of the listeners and give them valuable insights to learn and put to good use. If just one person is inspired to make a difference and to start or accelerate their cleantech journey, it’s worthwhile. From some of the feedback I get I’m confident that many more are finding my guests stories and insights useful and inspiring. Please do let me know your feedback, in comments or directly. Please do share with friends and colleagues if you enjoy it. Maybe go crazy and write a review on iTunes or your platform of choice!! If you have any ideas for guests let me know. Yes, Elon Musk is on my list!!

Thank you for all of your support so far.

David

Website: www.thisweekincleantech.com

Twitter https://twitter.com/weekincleantech

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/thisweekincleantech/

Those who take their business or leadership role seriously know that life is much easier and business is much more successful with real talent in your team. The CEO’s of two of the most successful businesses in corporate history, Steve Jobs at Apple and Jack Welch at GE, were both very vocal about having A players on your team. Often, I’m asked to write or speak about acquiring top talent. That stands to reason, it’s what my company, Hyperion Executive Search does, help companies find the very best talent. But we also help clients to retain that top talent.

Finding and acquiring talent can be costly (although it should always be seen and treated as an investment not a cost), so it’s bizarre that some companies devote so much time to acquiring talent, then don’t know what to do with ‘it’, or how to manage ‘it’ and subsequently lose ‘it’. A bit like constantly filling a bucket with a hole in. Now that is an expensive business.

To maximise your investment in talented individuals your company needs to put in place a range of measures and processes, starting with on-boarding and induction. These are critical, but I wanted to speak more about retention of existing talent. At Hyperion we provide a range of services and consultancy aimed at helping businesses to retain and maximise the impact of talented employees, but here are some of the key considerations.  Like many of the most important practices in business they are not rocket science, but they are often overlooked.

I base my comments on nearly two decades of interviewing and consulting with talented candidates.  I’ve approached or been approached by many hundreds of candidates, maybe thousands. There are many factors why some people stay put, even when approached with a strong opportunity, and why some want to jump ship. I’ve found though that if one or more of these key three elements is missing, then you have a potential leaver.

You may or may not be surprised to hear that money is very seldom the key driver for talented people to want to leave. A factor yes, but rarely the most important one.

So, what are the three key factors that talented people want and need to be happy, and therefore be driven to stay in your business?

AUTONOMY

Good people do not want to be micro-managed or inhibited from being creative in their job. You will often see comments that most people leave a job directly because of their immediate boss. Of course, that can be true, but it can also be true that the ‘boss’ is just acting within or carrying out the company culture. It’s easy to blame one individual, but it’s the company culture that allows that manager to operate in that way. People expect to be managed, to be accountable, to have parameters and guidelines, but they also want the ability to get on with the job. They want to use the talent you employed them for, to be creative, to find solutions, in short, they want autonomy in their role to grow, achieve and prove their worth, to you and to themselves.

CHALLENGE

In the same vein good people want to be challenged. Not only do they want the autonomy to do their job, they want new challenges and situations to deal with and to learn from. Greater levels of responsibility or special projects in addition to their day to day activities. A greater challenge doesn’t just mean upping their targets or workload, it means new things to stretch their abilities and creativity and to demonstrate their value. It is accepted that this is usually whilst also maintaining performance in their current role, but ultimately leads to promotion or new opportunities in the business. In short they want an opportunity to grow and to shine.

RECOGNITION

Recognition and reward can and does come in many ways; salary and financial reward are an important part of the mix. Don’t though expect to retain your superstars forever if you just throw money at them. If that’s all that’s on offer, they can find that elsewhere easily enough, or they’ll choose to sacrifice some income for the autonomy and challenges we’ve discussed. We have helped many, many good candidates to move over the years where a decrease in salary has been happily accepted for a more rewarding and challenging environment. Rewards and recognition are a huge topic in themselves, but a whole raft of options are available and many if not most are free, or low cost to the business. How much does a thank you or pat on the back cost?

In short talented people stay where their talents are recognised, rewarded, nurtured, developed and encouraged. Not rocket science at all is it? But so very few companies have a culture or processes to make sure this happens, and that is why so many have a hole in their talent bucket.

The moment your very success is the very thing that threatens to kill your business comes as quite a surprise. For me the moment, in my last business, hit me like a slap in the face with a wet fish. Not something you forget!

I co-founded a renewable technology installation/EPC company back in 2007, pre-FIT and when most people laughed at you when you mentioned solar panels. The first two years were a struggle of course, but the team was small, we all grafted hard, we all knew everything that was going on in the business, and we all knew every customer.  We lived and breathed the business and saw more of each other than our wives and families. If you’ve founded or worked in a start-up that will no doubt be familiar. This went on a couple of years, and then, boom! The UK solar industry took off, and we were one of a very small number of companies established and accredited.

For us the growth catalyst was the introduction of ‘Feed in Tariff’s for solar and small wind. Whatever the catalyst for you, whether policy, technology or business model innovation, when you go from sweating every penny or cent in to and out of your business, to fast growth, it’s quite a journey.

All that shines isn’t always Gold!

We went from five employees to fifty in a very short space of time, and from a few hundred grand turnover to over £6million. We had to scale everything, from sales, to finance, from operations and project management to project delivery.  You don’t have time to think, everyone is working so hard in the business you don’t have time to work on the business, you try to, you set time aside to, but boy is it hard. Customers are knocking at your door with money to spend. You’ve got to juggle the money to fund the growth. After 2 years of hand to mouth living, personally and as a company, you think you’ve reached the promised land, and the future is golden.

Houston we have a problem! 

That wet fish moment is embedded into my memory. We’d just moved office, for the third time in 18 months, I was walking into the kitchen for a coffee, and there were four individuals in the kitchen, and I had no idea who they were or what they did. You might say no big deal, they didn’t report directly, or indirectly to me. As a company owner I should know their names and be able to great them personally, but so much was going on, no big deal right? Wrong.  That was the moment I knew the very culture, values and ethos of the business I had co-created, the ones that had made us so successful, the ones that made us stand out from the ever-increasing competition were hugely under threat. What made us great had been lost in a sea of frantic effort, we’d been so busy delivering projects, winning awards and feeling good about ourselves, we lost site of what was important. Hubris and busyness had hijacked our culture.  We worked hard to fix it, and to an extent we did. But this is what I learned…..

Your people, your values and your culture are your crown jewells

Now, I’d spent over 15 years in international headhunting before setting up that business, so I thought I knew about people. Indeed, I understood people very well, what motivated them to move company, what motivated them to stay, how to reward them, how to manage them, how to communicate with all personality types. All very useful, in fact invaluable. But I’d been working for international and corporate clients. Companies with big HR teams, induction programmes, management structures, organigrams and job descriptions.  None of that is bad of course, all very good, oh to have ‘Chief People Officer’ and team! But it certainly wasn’t start-up.

When you go into scale-up from start-up, the game changes, and you have to change, but one thing is constant, your people are everything. Who you recruit is only one vital ingredient of success, but how you recruit them, how you on-board them, and how you manage them is critical to the success of your business.

What the best start-ups I work with do to maintain culture

Challenging as it is, putting people AND culture first is critical to success. It can be a distraction, it can be frustrating when you’re juggling dozens of balls, it’s easy to pass the buck to another person in the founding team, or as is often the case, an office or admin manager. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve worked with great people in those roles, but it is unfair and a huge mistake to leave mission critical issues to them. If you are a founder or early stage employee you are ALL responsible for getting recruitment right.

It’s tempting of course, when you are tired, stressed and stretched to just get a ‘bum on a seat’. Can they walk, talk and do X activity, get them in, one less problem, right? No, a whole world of pain is waiting for those with that mentality. Whether you’ve just recruited the wrong person for your culture, a poor performer or a great candidate that you have on-boarded badly doesn’t much matter, if they leave, or you need to fire them half way into a project or process they are involved in. The buck you passed just came back with interest.

Top Tips

Each of course is worthy of it’s own post, but here is what the best companies do, from my experience.

  • The founders have a very clear set of values, and a very clear purpose for their business. These values, and this purpose drive everything they do especially recruitment.
  • They have a clear picture of the culture they want to build, how they want their staff, customers and suppliers to act and to be treated. And have this ALWAYS on their minds as a priority.
  • Put processes in place, before you need them. It’s very hard to change things once they are set, particularly in a scale-up situation when everything is chaotic.
  • Don’t recruit a role without a clear job description, and a clear idea of ‘what success looks like’ for each role. If you don’t know it, the employee can’t know it, and no one can judge if things are going well. You certainly can’t blame an employee for not being good, if you haven’t explained what ‘good’ looks like.
  • Don’t compromise on recruitment. A bad hire is a world of pain. A great candidate with a poor culture fit is a short term relief but very short-term, a bad apple spoils the barrel! Don’t just hire on cultural fit, as is often said, they have to be capable and have the skills too. Set up a process to ensure your recruiting is both logical and emotional. Head and heart.
  • Prepare for their start, have everything ready, small stuff, desk, phones, laptop/PC, business cards, whatever is needed for them to do their job, have ready, not ‘we’ll get it sorted soon.’
  • Induct them, have them meet and have coffee with the founders/key team members, have everyone ready to welcome the new employee, and to tell them what they do, why the company is great, and what the values, culture and purpose of the business is (a reiteration from the recruitment process). Have a set out timetable of tasks, training, learning, and of course ‘doing’, with follow-up at each stage. They need to have embedded at this early stage, what good looks like, what you expect of them and why, and how the company works, internally and externally.
  • Whether you think of it that way or not, and whether you like it or not, regardless if there was a recruitment fee or not, each employee is an investment. Treat them like you would treat any investment, because remember, investments can go up or down, some will make you money, some will cost you money. Employees are same, at any and all levels.

So yes you are busy, and yes you have a million things to do, all of them important, and yes, it would be great if someone takes the pain away (we can take the recruitment process pain away), but it is your responsibility and your time.  To me it makes much more sense to take a little more time and effort to do things right, than to cut corners and do it twice, or three times, or more.

Poor company culture kills companies. Poorly motivated staff kill companies. Poorly equipped or skilled staff can kill companies. High staff attrition can kill companies.

When you are scaling up, I would argue, your hiring of people is the most important thing, more important than even fundraising, because you’re going to burn and waste an awful lot of that money if your people aren’t the right people, doing the right things, at the right time, in the right way, and being treated right.

If you want to talk recruitment, talent acquisition and retention or scaling cleantech businesses, I’m very happy to do so.

David Hunt