Scaling and Retaining Top Talent

By Endeavor Greece Jan 18, 2022

Last week Endeavor Greece hosted a panel discussion on many insightful topics such as what it means to scale top talent and how to create and sustain a culture in a company. The discussion was amazing thanks to our panellists Elena Pantazi, Talent & Portfolio Development at NorthzoneIoanna Christodoulopoulou, Talent Director at Olympia Group of Companies, and Olga Skouteli, Head of Culture and Engagement at Lilium

War for talent 

Elena Pantazi Partner, Talent & Portfolio Development at Northzone starts the conversation out strong by addressing the “hot job market” at the moment. She goes on to say that due to the current talent pool, there’s a great opportunity for up-and-coming startups to reposition themselves in an innovative way, and attract some great people. In order to do so, one needs to articulate their offering to attract the right talent to their company. She expresses that the war for talent is a great opportunity for a company and its founders, to create a differentiating point between them and their competitors. This is also known as an employer value proposition. 

Ioanna Christodoulopoulou, Talent Director at Olympia Group of Companies, agrees with Elena, and emphasizes that another important aspect of finding your talent is being able to define it. Identifying, targeting, and looking for the talent that best serves your company and the culture you are creating. She claims that just because it’s talent for me, doesn’t mean it’s talent for everyone else. Founders need to be specific with what they ask for in terms of skill set and personality.

Retention is key 

“It’s difficult to find talent but it’s even more difficult to retain talent”

– Ioanna Christodoulopoulou  

Olga Skouteli, Head of Culture and Engagement at Lilium emphasizes that purpose is what attracts people. She connects this to retention and says that yes, the tables have been turned and talent is choosing where to dedicate their time, resources and skills but it’s up to the culture at the company to keep this exceptional talent happy. Talent is looking to work for a company that has a purpose. She has noticed that they are choosing where they go with scrutiny and they crave to work for a company in which they can contribute to something that would make them feel valuable, respected, and appreciated.  

When addressing the question “is it fair to talk about scaling culture,” Olga claims that the priority should be growing and changing culture in order for a company to innovate, in regards to the needs in terms of skill, behaviours, and mindsets of the company & its people. She has noticed that there are different mindsets needed at different phases of the company.

“Scaling means growing, scaling means evolving” 

– Olga Skouteli

In agreement with Olga, Ioanna ties the two together by saying that in order for one to scale talent, you must have the growth approach, Meaning, that a key part of the employee value proposition is to seek to attract people by telling them (and sticking by it) that they’ll have the opportunity to grow as the company grows. 

Elena adds that the first hires are usually very crucial to setting the tone and the original culture of the company. She suggests pinpointing and acknowledging the few individuals you want to keep and grow and be very open and transparent with them on how the culture is evolving when it does, and when we need to bring in more experienced talent. Another important aspect regarding the employer value proposition is compensation and career path, before and throughout their journey.

Leadership role identifying culture 

Identify where your superpowers are and where you need support”

– Elena Pantazi

Elena advises her founders and pushes them towards strength-based coaching, which is a way of identifying where your “powers are” and where you need support. She thinks it’s important to set the tone in attracting people that are complementary to you and therefore as a byproduct, you give them the opportunity to grow. She also believes that the leaders of the team need to have a clear idea of what personalities are complementary to the existing founding team, to better their journey. This will help establish a unified approach and make sure that everyone who joins the team is aligned with the offering.

Olga cannot stress enough how leaders of the company are always on stage 24/7, and that they need to set a good example of the values and behaviours they want to see emanate within their company. Ioanna expresses that leaders need to be “mindful and authentic,” in order to ensure that they embrace the values and the culture they want their business to have, and they don’t look for people similar to them. She says to be a leader, but to also be honest with your team, making sure that they feel what you feel, and believe that it’s the right step forward.

Culture in a hybrid and remote work setting 

“Needs more conscious and deliberate effort” 

– Olga Skouteli

Olga shares her personal experience in her field to show that there is no difference in how to create a culture in these circumstances. It happens exactly the same way as it happens in the physical space, with a lot more effort. Building off of that, Ioanna mentions that there is no right or wrong answer in how to build a culture in a remote work setting. Your culture will help you define what’s right for your employees in the remote work setup.

 When to hire a head of culture

When asked the question “at what stage in the company should one hire a head of people” Ioanna claims that the question should rather be, why do you need to hire a head of people or head of culture. If that question cannot be answered, then you won’t succeed in hiring the right person. She advises not to hire individuals for this task if you aren’t ready to give them the responsibility to deliver. 

Olga agrees and narrows the ask down to, needing to specify what exactly this person is going to do for your company. She thinks that hiring a head of people and culture early on is good, as it shows that culture is a priority to the company. You need to be smart about it, and hire someone who understands how intrinsic behaviours and mindset changes are important to businesses results.

“Culture is not a one-woman show. All the burden cannot fall on one person to fix or help the culture” 

– Olga Skouteli

She also emphasizes that people are culture and culture is defined by everyone in the company. The person you hire to be in charge of “culture and people” is meant to be there to help the team and the founder manage and execute activities and ideas that will promote the values of the company. They are there to create the toolkit for people to enable the culture, but everyone should be enablers. 

“Let’s try to nurture not talent development, but engagement” 

– Ioanna Christodoulopoulou

Ioanna starts the conversation off by saying that the right way to nurture talent development is by offering constant opportunities for growth as well as developing an employee value proposition. By doing this you articulate why someone would like to stay with your company and identify reasons that people will be satisfied and engaged. In order to create opportunities for growth, you need to challenge the authority and the ownership in order to be developed. She also felt that it is important to invest in the training so your employer feels like they are skilled enough in order to deliver as the company grows as the challenges grow as their job description grows.

Elena brings up a common misconception when it comes to senior positions and how much authority one has to take. She explains that there are other ways in which a company can show value to their employers and facilitate progression in their roles without making it look too corporate or hierarchical. 

“At the moment, companies have a linear perception of development” 

– Olga Skouteli

Olga agrees that there are creative ways to show people that they can grow in a company such as a scaleup or startup, just by being exposed to things they wouldn’t be exposed to in big corporations. They can develop in that way, which most often times isn’t reflected in the title but it’s reflected in the skills and experiences.

Does culture eat strategy for breakfast?

We need to have an out-of-the-box thinking, says Ioanna, who believes that you should always be able to revolve your culture around your strategy. The two on their own do not enable you to bring the results you want to have as an entrepreneur, leader, or businessperson. 

Agreeing with the statement, Olga playfully says, “Good luck delivering a strategy if your people don’t buy it,” as it’s critical to employ people that buy into your strategy, believe in it, and see themselves as people who contribute to that. Elena adds to that by emphasizing that the HR role helps further this statement, as founders realize how important it is to have people with a skill set that allows them to enable a culture in the company. 

Future of work 

Finding our purpose is key, and that is how we know where our future lies in terms of driving our business, Ioanna says. A flexible way of working is here to stay, as well as being more mindful of mental health and agility and persistence in the workplace. Elena sees the exciting aspects of flexibility in working with the abundance of new tools brought to the workspace. 

The Greek ecosystem is hungry for innovation. There’s a belief that the next billion-dollar company could come from anywhere. That being said, the talent coming from Greece is exceptional and the opportunities are endless.