Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Hundredsof dot-commers from failed start-ups are flooding the employment market. Butcan these creative individuals be integrated successfully within traditionalorganisations? Asks Liz Simpson Haveyou ever wondered why some pioneering entrepreneurs leave the companies theyfounded when the business reaches a certain size? In some cases, they recognisethat their success at managing a handful of highly motivated mavericks isgreater than their ability to guide a bigger, more diverse workforce. But oftenit’s because the passion of those early days evaporates when the balancebetween thinking up great ideas and running a business tips more and moretowards the latter. Such founders don’t want to run an established company,just to grow one.Inhis book, Accidental Empires, about the personalities of Silicon Valley, authorRobert X Cringely compares the different approaches to working life to those ofvarious kinds of military personnel. Start-up personalities, including mostdot-com entrepreneurs, are like commandos – “young guns” who love towork hard and fast, and whose creativity in dealing with unexpected situationsoften comes at the expense of professionalism. When there’s a beachhead to beconquered, or a new market to storm, you can’t do better.Comparethem with the kind of individuals an army needs when it already has anestablished presence and requires people to hold that territory. Certainly theywon’t be able to do that with a bunch of livewires who baulk at the idea ofrules, regulations and processes. Themost valuable personalities in this context are the military police. Unlike thecommandos, these types dislike too much change, operate best when there’s astructure to adhere to and are looking primarily for security and stability,not excitement and danger. Rather like the majority of employees in later-stagebusinesses, in fact.Nowconsider what’s happening as many dot-commers from failed start-ups areflooding the employment market. In the past the question on everyone’s lipswas: “How can start-ups, run by young and relatively inexperiencedindividuals, take on someone with experience in a larger, more structuredbusiness – given that each represents a different culture?” Today many areasking: “Should we try to integrate into larger, more established andsecure organisations individuals who, before the dot-com bubble burst, wouldnot have given such employers the time of day?”Ifthere’s a lesson to be drawn anywhere, it’s from Silicon Valley where manydot-com employees – perhaps for the first time in their lives – face the threatof redundancy and worry about their ability to find another job quickly andeasily. Is there a way in which more advanced companies can take on and benefitfrom the passion and creativity of such individuals? In short, can thecommandos work in organisations more geared to the military police?Absolutely,says Jack Scott, a Silicon Valley-based partner with international executivesearch firm Heidric & Struggles, whose clients include both young start-upsand Fortune 500 companies. Not only that, says Scott, but businesses that failto take advantage of this talent will miss a golden opportunity.”Embracingdot-com employees into more established businesses is rather like a youngstergoing to live back with their parents after spending some time at college. Eachside needs to meet the other halfway and rethink the rules of engagement. Howquickly and painlessly they do that depends on how much open communication goeson,” he says. “Peoplewho have been attracted to start-ups are more risk-oriented, creative in theirapproach to business and comfortable with questioning the status quo. They’vebeen prepared to embrace wholeheartedly the business and mission and have givena certain amount of blood, sweat and tears to achieve something they believedin – even to the extent of putting the rest of their lives on hold. Largecompanies need to learn how to harness that kind of passion and energy.”Scottadds that now the employment wheel has turned back to a buyers’ market, hefears that larger organisations will be tempted to bring in even more formalityand structure because they don’t feel they have to cater as much to the newer,younger generation who are coming, cap in hand, for jobs.”Thatwould be a big mistake,” he stresses. “If we are to learn anythingfrom the high-tech experience over the past few years, it’s that traditionalcompanies have a lot to learn from people who push the envelope. They need toapproach dot-commers rather like a coach – be able to recognise the raw talent,and instil greater direction and focus than might normally be the case, yetwithout squashing the spark that makes that person so exciting and innovative.”JaneMoyer, director of HR at global media and technology company [email protected], agreesthat start-up types have a very different risk profile than someone attractedto a bricks and mortar company. But she offers a more guarded perspective withregard to bringing anyone into a workforce that operates from a very differentculture to what they’ve been used to.”Themore entrepreneurial these kids coming out of dot-coms are – and I call themkids, no matter how old they may be – the more they’ll have to adjust theirrisk profile and way of working. As HR professionals, we need to be alert tothat and look for evidence during the recruiting process that such a change ispossible. Frankly, it’s less about companies having to accommodate thecandidate than the other way around,” says Moyer. “While employeescoming out of dot-coms are extraordinarily entrepreneurial, their focus is onspeed and pushing a product on to the market as quickly as possible, as opposedto understanding the market and the customers.”Moyeradds that, in her experience, employees from start-ups tend not to work ascollaboratively as is expected in later-stage companies because they wereemployed as autonomous experts.”It’sone thing to want to attract people who think about problems differently, quiteanother to take on someone whose approach to solving problems is to do thingsby themselves with no collaboration with their team whatsoever,” she says.Shepoints out that whether it’s a tight labour market or not, there are threethings HR professionals should always interview for:–Skills – can the person do what you want them to do?–Attributes – how do they work best, are they team players, how developed aretheir interpersonal skills?–Cultural fit.”We’vegot a whole slew of younger workers who may be available to us now, which meanswe’ve got to be particularly careful about cultural fit,” says Moyer.”Many entrepreneurial types are more comfortable with a stage one company– three guys, $10m to play with and a great idea, working out of someone’sgarage. If that’s what they really want to be doing, these folks will nevermake the transition into a mainstream culture and it would disrupt the internalharmony of your company to take them on.”JackScott, however, feels that while the ability to successfully blend differentcultural perspectives is developing slowly, many companies believe there isvalue in what a new generation of employees has to bring to the table. “Itmay be challenging, but it’s in their best interests for organisations torecognise the value of people who were given a chance to be creative, moreresponsible and authentic,” he says.”Early-stagecompanies do that by allowing individuals to flourish and flower rather thanbeing hemmed in by processes, procedures and bureaucracy. What you have thepotential of achieving here is a merger that combines the wisdom and experienceof people who’ve been in business a long time with the enthusiasm, passion andflexibility of this new generation.”Howyou achieve that is by ensuring everyone is focused on the same commonobjective and is shooting for the same goal. That’s hard to bring about if thetwo groups aren’t communicating in the first place.”Casestudy: EDSWhenit was founded in 1962, global information services company EDS foresaw that ITwould fundamentally change the way people, companies and governments operate.Since then, the company has grown from 500 employees to 120,000, its revenuefrom $16m to over $18.5bn. Despiteits age and size, EDS successfully helps former dot-com employees settle insmoothly, including many who had left the company dreaming of their path toriches and have since returned disillusioned. How has EDS managed this? Bymaintaining the company’s entrepreneurial spirit.ExplainsChris Ryan, regional director for HR delivery, whose responsibility it is tomanage the recruiting function in the US: “We certainly have someprocesses and structure, as you’d expect from a corporation as well-establishedas ours, but it’s blended with a culture of risk taking and being innovative.Our environment is not that different from what you’d expect from a dot-com –with the added benefit of a secure payroll. “Ourmantra is, ‘It’s better to ask forgiveness than wait for permission’, becausewe want people to take ownership and do whatever makes sense to support our clientand distinguish us from the competition.”Headvises that to benefit from the passion and creativity of start-uppersonalities, your mainstream culture has to be one in which those traitssurvive – not unlike that of a start-up with the emphasis on ownership,pitching in and doing whatever it takes to get the job done. If you don’t havethat environment, bringing in people who’ve only been exposed to dot-comculture won’t work – it’s a forced fit.”Ourextensive interviewing process gives us a good picture of how candidates wouldfit within any given culture. We’re also able to identify those people who areonly coming back or approaching us for economic reasons. Throughout every stagewe’re looking to determine how well the fit is likely to be,” Ryan says.Whatkind of organisation are you?It’simportant to know what sort of culture operates in your organisation before youcan effectively attract and retain people best suited to your needs – not justin terms of the jobs they do, but their alignment with your corporate mission.How companies operate has been illustrated using military metaphors. The goodnews is, all have the potential to be attractive to dot-commers.–Stage one companies (up to two years old): Attractive to those who thinkof work in terms of the projects they’d love to get involved with rather than acareer. They appeal to people who are passionate about a product or corporatevision, but whose missionary-like zeal can become dampened by processes andprocedures. These companies are ideal for multi-skilled, creative”commandos” who constantly desire to push the boundaries of what ispossible.–Stage two companies (two to five years old): This is the bestenvironment for the corporate “infantry” – the second-wave invasionforce whose desire is to capitalise on the initial success of the start-up andwho prefer to work with more substantial resources (and hence security). Theinfantry thrives in organisations that recognise that processes are necessaryto save time, but don’t allow them to get in the way of someone trying to dotheir best job. The people attracted to these better-established organisationswill take direction, but also want to be applauded for thinking for themselves.–Stage three companies (six years plus): These older companies need totake great care during the recruiting process that candidates fully understandthe corporate vision, mission and values in order to ensure alignment. The mostsuccessful at attracting entrepreneurial types actively demonstrate how eachemployee is expected to make a significant contribution to the business. Peopleattracted to these “occupying force” organisations want theopportunity to develop new, transferable skills, something they recognise isnot possible at companies with less structure and fewer resources.furtherinformation…AccidentalEmpires: how the boys of Silicon Valley make their millions, battle foreigncompetition and still can’t get a date, by Robert X Cringely, Harper Business,1992. 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