How to Start a Business

“Why Do Key Talents Leave?” 3 Key Points Often Overlooked by Startup Founders, Executives

Junhyuck Lee
June 5, 2024

1.Are the criteria for ‘key talent’ in startups misplaced?

When selecting key talent, startups often misjudge certain metrics, specifically "history/experience" and "information monopoly." Typically, this selection includes C-level executives, founding members, and long-tenured employees.

Just because someone is well-versed in the product's history, doesn't mean they truly engage with and care about the service like a jukebox that spontaneously plays songs. Those who merely scratch the surface cannot truly be considered key talents.

Additionally, those who monopolize information about the product and organization—and do not effectively digest and share this information—are essentially blocking information flow, which disqualifies them from being considered key talents.

(Source : Unsplash)

Then, What are the criteria for key talent?

In startups, I believe the essential key talents are those who "do not just stop at ideas but execute them to achieve results", and "can provide constructive dissent within the organization". Particularly, those who can raise healthy objections and questions are crucial for startups. 

As startups receive more investment and grow, they begin to form their own domains, and inevitably, "politics" starts to take root.

Many claim their organizations are free of politics, but that's hardly possible. Even small communities of just 10-20 people have factions and elect leaders, and similar dynamics occur in startups, often subtly but significantly.

Therefore, to break down these "politics," key talents in startups need to be able to execute and produce results. Those who can offer constructive feedback can truly be key people driving integration and innovation within the organization.

Startup key talent checklist:

  1. Does the key talent have the authority to act responsibly and autonomously in their role?
  2. When results are achieved, does the key talent receive compensation competitive with or better than other companies?
  3. Can both the company and the individual continuously pursue growth?
  4. Is there a work culture and environment conducive to engagement?

If the answer to these questions is "yes," then key talents have no reason to leave the company. However, the problem is that startups meeting these criteria are thought to be less than 4%.

(Source : Unsplash)

2.What is Common in Startups Where Key Talent Continuously Departs

Regarding the second question on the checklist (though contingent on the financial situation of the company), the aspect of compensating talents is a feasible area for investment. Reducing compensation further when it should be sufficient can hasten the departure of staff. 

Who would stay at a company where there's no reward for achievements?

For the remaining points 1, 3, and 4, if the answer is not a "yes," it is likely that the talents are not focusing on "individualization" and "vision and values."

In a startup that talks about endless growth, if the work doesn't align with actual growth, or feels like running on a treadmill, why would anyone invest their career and life there? Startup founders should put themselves in their shoes. It can reveal the answer.

Compensation is a basic approach to attract the key talents. "Growth" and "vision" require endless deliberation and investment from management. Only then can talents genuinely commit their time and effort to the company with a sense of purpose. Rethink from scratch, beyond just fulfilling KPIs/OKRs.

3.'Criteria for Key Talent' Often Overlooked by Startup Executives

Many C-level executives make the oversight of considering all staff, except developers, as easily replaceable. Particularly at risk are those in "service operations" roles, who are often underestimated and viewed as plentiful in the job market.

However, the success of a startup's business heavily relies on listening to customer feedback and the ability to solve problems based on real-time field data. This crisis response is crucial, especially since startups may not have fully developed processes and systems, making any single mistake or oversight potentially disastrous for the organization.

Therefore, while those who build the product are important, the personnel who operate these services and provide efficient perspectives are truly invaluable talents.

Each individual talent is irreplaceable, having gathered significant information and prepared thoroughly before even setting foot in the company. It is significant for startup executives to remember that every staff member brings unique value to the organization.

(Source : Unsplash)

In Conclusion

While many attribute the failure of startups to unproven business models (BM) and lack of funds, the departure of key talent is also a critical cause. 

The loss of key person can lead to organizational disruption and slow down a company's growth. Furthermore, because the startup industry is so interconnected, rumors of such departures can severely damage a company's reputation and make it difficult to attract new talent.

At the heart of every successful startup is its “people”.

Every effort should be made to understand and address the reasons behind their potential departure and take actionable steps to retain them. The focus should always be on maintaining and nurturing the core talents that drive the startup forward.

Written by Junhyuck Lee (Linkedin)

Original Post : 


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Junhyuck Lee