Hiring exceptional talent

Sell the scale-up journey to hire the best people

From our grassroots research, it is clear that attracting and developing talent is integral to stimulating and navigating fast growth. From developing new products, taking on more customer orders or expanding the business structure - the right hire or promotion can transform a company. With nearly 50% of scaling-up MSBs growing their employment capacity by over 70% over three years, [1] the demand for great talent is high.

Giving opportunities to performing staff and those with the potential to step up is important, but equally recognising where external talent is needed is a critical process. With competition for skills rising, [2] medium sized businesses have to be strategic when looking to acquire the best individuals.

"Scaling-up is a journey that requires a robust and proven trust platform with staff. In any business transformation the team will need to dig deep. It is my responsibility as CEO to ensure we have the good will, courage and culture to do that and enjoy the process. Don't automatically assume your existing team is not able to step up to the next level."

1 Andy Corley, CEO, Quadralene

Companies we spoke to focused on leveraging the distinctive benefits that being part of the scale-up journey offers as a method of competing with other firms. Selling the vision of the company, the great culture and the opportunity to be an integral part of a rapidly developing project are key incentives. These tangible benefits often succeeded in enticing talented people to fast-growth companies rather than the bigger firms who could pay higher wages.

Actions for government

Improve access to skilled workers that are essential for scale-up companies to grow by raising the Tier 2 (general) visa cap

  1. Scale-up companies need access to talent fast. The Tier 2 visa route allows businesses to compete in an increasingly globally connected economy by facilitating talent exchange and encouraging investment to the UK.
  2. Business supports a managed migration system that strikes a balance between the need for access to skilled workers and the social impacts of immigration, we do not believe the Tier 2 (general) visa cap is an effective way to reduce net migration and should be raised.

4 tips from scale-ups for hiring exceptional talent

1 Sell the vision of your fast growth company and the unique benefits and development opportunities that brings

"Our strategy is not to outbid on salary, but rather sell the unparalleled development opportunities, company culture and exciting journey that we're on."

1 Toby Austin, CEO and Co-Founder, Beauhurst

2 Leverage new online networks such as LinkedIn and existing traditional forums such as industry events to gain access to high performers

3 Incentivise long-term commitment to the business through strategic offering of shares

4 Be honest with what the job entails and ensure it meets the candidates development needs

"We look for people that have the ability to deal with ambiguity, to make a choice when there is no clear right or wrong answer. This is a key attribute that can benefit fast growing businesses."

1 James McClure, General Manager, UK and Ireland, Airbnb

Scale-up case study

Name: TestPlant

Founded: 2008

Growth: 69% annual compound growth for five years

TestPlant is an international software company and the maker of a range of tools which automate the testing of systems across desktop and mobile devices in a number of industries, including financial services, retail, defence, media and healthcare in all of which software regarded as business and mission critical. Starting-up in 2008, George Mackintosh, CEO, had a clear intention to scale the company and created a software product range, "eggPlant", that could be deployed quickly and easily in major enterprises and deliver productivity gains through the automation of testing.

Believing that it is better to have secure your own chairman rather than having one thrust upon you, George partnered with a previous and highly experienced non-executive chairman. As the company grew the senior leadership regularly assessed the capabilities of their staff and recognised that a CTO and CFO were required. The technology sector is notoriously competitive and to secure their chosen candidates they made sure to sell the particular benefits that a scale-up offers – great development opportunities, strong company culture and being part of an exciting journey.

Accessing the largest technology market in the world, the United States, was also integral to Test Plant's scale-up ambitions. Cracking that market and disrupting some of the large companies in that space has been a key driver of their high growth. Now with an exporting presence in markets such as China, Japan and Germany, TestPlant has a clear ambition of growing the company by 40% per year.


[1] Experian, Scale-up Analysis, 2015

[2] Sherry Coutu CBE, The Scale-Up Report, 2014

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