How People Mature is your Start-Up?


What makes a start-up mature? Business maturity brings to mind rigour, stability & predictability. In my learning it’s managing the juxtaposition of the innovative, blue-sky, and unconventional aspects of a start-up against the need for organisational diligence. The success of managing the above dictates how well the business scales and meets it’s organisational vision.

The people can make or break the small start-up: one culturally misaligned employee or one poor performer can have a much greater impact on customer satisfaction and employee engagement than a rogue employee in a larger business.

What I am interested in is how start-ups make themselves mature from a people & culture perspective. I tried to answer this with one of my Bazaarvoice colleagues recently and I was particularly fascinated to hear about his experiences of the culture ups and downs in the Bazaarvoice journey. At Bazaarvoice we describe ourselves as a ‘mature start-up’ now at 10 years of age, and we’re on a path to people maturity. Our discussion inspired me to pick up a (figurative) pen and write this post.

Like Recruits Like

When a start-up is in it’s early days every employee is a sales person. And an Account Manager. And Technical Support. It’s more likely to succeed when big personalities and outgoing people are steering the ship, because the business needs to be vocal about what it’s doing. As a result, start-ups love to hire extroverts. Extroverts are gregarious and seek their energy off of other people, slipping into social situations with ease. They’re a social magnet and their natural charisma gives them an air of credibility, all of which are desired skills for a rapidly expanding start-up.

As people professionals we know that unguided recruitment decisions leave hiring managers open to all sorts of biases. Studies show that hiring managers are more likely to rate a candidate favourably if they possess similar attributes to themselves; we like to recruit people who are like us. Start-ups inadvertently tend to create a more homogenised workforce, a group of people who look and sound the same. It’s culture, but it’s the sort of culture that eventually hinders rather than helps. We know that a pack of silverback gorillas can’t effectively co-exist.

How does a start-up really make itself people mature?

  • When it takes an emphasis off of the extrovert ideal, and recognises that someone who talks more than another does not necessarily have a more valuable opinion. It allows all of it’s people to be heard.
  • When we are able to describe a company culture as a set of underpinning values which affect how the business operates and how people treat each other (and not just surface stuff, even though having a games room and free food is pretty great).
  • When it challenges the words of ‘culture fit’ and ‘gut feeling’ that get thrown around by hiring managers, and gives serious thought to what those terms really mean. The guise of a hiring manager’s fit or a gut feeling are subjective and can be manifestations of different things for different people.
  • When it begins to start recruiting a diverse range of people into the business, rewarding those people fairly, and allowing them to work in a way which is best fit for their personal style.

When like recruits the unlikely, that’s when start-ups are people mature.

– In your experience, what other factors make a start-up people mature?
– Have you seen someone unfairly struck out during recruitment due to poor ‘culture fit’  or ‘gut feeling’? Have you challenged a hiring manager on their use of the terminology before?


2 thoughts on “How People Mature is your Start-Up?

  1. Great post David. I am going to be talking about this very subject at IT18 this year. Group Think is one of the biggest issues (can I nick the photo for my slides BTW?) and I agree that challenging gut feel recruitment and encouraging diversity are very important.


    • Thanks Richard, glad you enjoyed. I am really interested in the psychology around an individual’s need for group conformity and how that affects the quality of decisions made. I want to do more work to find practical ways businesses can navigate the group think issue i.e. how we design teams and teamwork to avoid this. Diversity is one thing, but ensuring all voices are heard on equal footing within your diverse workforce is another!

      Feel free to nab the cartoon too.


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