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 min read

Assessing work related needs for startup talent

Not everybody is a good fit for a startup or scaleup work environment. So who is? This an introduction to the most important work related needs of startup talent and how to assess them.

Work related needs of startup talent

Not everybody is a good fit for a startup work environment.

The high paced environment, mission driven character and a work environment that is in constant flux requires a certain personality and mindset.

Work related needs can be analysed in respect to specific types of work environments.

Every work environment has its own characteristics which match or not match with certain personalities and personal needs.

The startup work environment specifically is one which is characterized by a mission driven nature, visible impact, constant flux, undefined processes and a strong variety in work activities.

Some people might flourish in this environment because it can fulfil their personal needs.

Other people dislike it and possibly burn out because they naturally need things more related with large organizations, like recognition, structured learning, consistency, consensus and comfort.

In order to understand who is a good fit for a startup working environment, we first have look at the characteristics of a startup.

Characteristics of the startup working environment

Mission driven nature

A startup usually has a clear purpose.

The founders have an idea and related emotion about what they want to establish and why.

The company is driven by mission because if you want to make a difference with a small team and compete with giants, you better have a big reason to do so.

This mission driven nature is different compared to established organizations which usually are directed by structures, processes, systems and hierarchies.

Visible impact

In a startup team your individual efforts have a relatively big effect and therefore are clearly visible.

You are usually the only one in your role.

In large organizations your efforts and contribution to the whole can vanish into the crowd of people trying to make a difference.

Constant flux

The startup environment is one that is constantly changing. Mainly due to uncertainties in direction.

The startup’s value proposition is unproven and therefore to be continuously rediscovered.

New ways to deliver value to customers, a changing focus on customer segments and required changes in underlying processes and technologies have direct impact on the rest of the organization.

Large organizations usually have proven business models in existing markets which provide more consistency in direction and way of working.

Undefined inputs, processes and outputs

Because the startup organization is by essence in constant flux, the organization is also immature in terms of people, processes and tooling.

This means there is usually no definition of success and more uncertainties than certainties about ways of getting there.

In large organizations there can be a more clearly defined job description and expectations for individuals because there are processes in place to which the different roles contribute.

Variety in work activities

The constantly changing environment and limited definition of responsibilities mean work activities can vary enormously.

Someone who is hired as a sales executive can also be responsible for measuring marketing metrics and bringing in leads.

There is a lot to do with few people.

In large organizations roles are more specialized because there are other people doing their work and your scope of work is more narrow.


Looking at the previously mentioned characteristics combined with insights from human needs studies (source 1 - 4) we concluded five work related needs for startup talent that is likely to be successful and happy in their job.

They value:

Purpose (over recognition), matching the mission driven nature
Impact (over expertise), matching the visible effects of efforts
Flexibility (over consistency), matching the constantly changing environment
Autonomy (over reliance), matching the undefined inputs, processes and outputs
Stimulation (over comfort), matching the variety in work activities

Let's deep dive into the work related needs of startup and scaleup talent and their opposing needs.

What successful and happy startup and scaleup talent are driven by

Purpose vs Recognition

Successful startup talent gets fulfilled by direction and meaningful activity derived from their passion for the company’s mission.

Personal growth is top of their list.

They care less about status and prestige, driving the hottest car or getting awarded. Recognition in terms of awards or a pat on the back is less important to them.

Purpose
  • Life goals and direction
  • Meaningful activity
  • Personal growth
Recognition
  • Appreciation
  • Respect
  • Status and prestige

Impact vs Competence

They appreciate the direct influence they have and they focus on contribution by building on something that directly adds value.

They don’t want to be seen as the expert, they care about the results of their work.

Impact
  • Influence
  • Contribution
  • To build something
Competence
  • Knowledge and understanding
  • Control
  • Progression in expertise

Flexibility vs Consistency

They love it when their work is in constant flux, changing day by day and seeing the progression in their work and how they execute it.

Too much stability and conservation of traditional mindsets and methods scares them off.

Flexibility
  • Flux
  • Progression
Consistency
  • Stability
  • Conservation

Autonomy vs Reliance

Startup talent thrives when they can enjoy freedom of decision and they should be able to creatively express themselves.

Teamwork is essential, but they want to balance it with a sense of individual freedom and self-reliance.

Support from others is appreciated but not something that is necessary on a daily basis.

Autonomy
  • Freedom of decision
  • Creative expression
  • Self-reliance
Reliance
  • Camaraderie
  • Emotional support
  • Reliance on others

Stimulation vs Comfort

They seek novelty and variation in their work, changing their perspective and patterns. Work = play.

They don’t want too much comfort or structure, things should be spontaneous, adventurous and have a decent amount of unpredictability.

Stimulation
  • Novelty
  • Variation
  • Play
Comfort
  • Peace of mind
  • Convenience
  • Overview and structure

Startup, scaleup or established organization?

To assess to what extent someone is a good fit for a startup, scaleup or established company, the below framework can offer a simplified way of looking at work related needs and to what extent they fit a startup working environment.

The range indicates where startup prone talent scores against scaleup talent and talent that match established companies.

The differences in work related needs for talent that thrives in respectively startup, scaleup and established company work environments

Questions and statements you can use for your startup candidate assessment

To assess candidates yourself, you can use the below statements to use in your interviews or assessment methods.

The statement act as opposing preferences based on which you can get an idea about what ultimately drives the candidate.

You can for an example have a candidate choose between two opposing statements. For example "I like a constantly changing working environment" vs "I like a work environment that continues in a stable manner".

*These are indicative statements that you can use in interviews. This is not supposed to be a scientifically validated employment assessment.

Purpose prone vs Recognition prone

'I like to spend time on reflecting on my life goals' vs 'I like to build my reputation so people see me as someone with a certain status'

'I want to see that my work contributes to what we are building' vs 'I want to focus on developing my skills when I'm working'

'I want to personally develop myself and grow' vs 'I like other people to recognize my work'

'I want my daily activities to be meaningful' vs 'I want to gain respect from the work I do'

Impact prone vs Competence prone

'I want to build on something' vs 'I want to become an expert in a specific field'

'I am aware of the contribution of my work to a bigger purpose' vs 'I want to focus on developing my individual skills'

Flexibility prone vs Consistency prone

'I like a constantly changing working environment' vs 'I like a work environment that continues in a stable manner'

'The work and what I learn from it should be progressing' and developing vs I like to preserve the responsibilities that I have'

'I love it when I have to figure out my own direction and way of working' vs 'I like to find consensus on how I or the team can do the job'

Autonomy prone vs Reliance prone

'I like to focus on my own tasks' vs 'I focus on the tasks of other team members'

'I like to express myself creatively and freely' vs 'I like it when the desired outcome of my work is clearly defined'

'I like to trust on my own way of overcoming work related challenges' vs 'I like to have a direction and structure to which I can fall back to do my work'

Stimulation vs Comfort

'I like to constantly engage in new situations and meet new people' vs 'I like knowing what to expect in my work'

'I like to play with the rules and challenge them' vs 'I like to completely finish a project before I continue to the next one'

'I like to engage in a variety of responsibilities and themes' vs 'I think people should conform to their job description'

Sources used to build this assessment

  1. Happiness within Organizations | Khan, Maaz | 2020
  2. Beyond Maslow’s Pyramid: Introducing a Typology of Thirteen Fundamental Needs for Human-Centered Design | Pieter Desmet & and Steven Fokkinga | 2020
  3. Motivation and Personality | Maslow, A.H. | 1987
  4. Toward a Psychology of Being | Maslow, A.H. | 1968
  5. High Growth Handbook | Elad Gil | 2018
  6. Interviews with startup/scaleup recruiters
  7. Are You Suited for a Start-Up? | HBR | Jeffrey Bussgang | 2017

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