What scaling our business to 240 people taught me about hiring

Hiring in a scale-up
Guy Setford
Setfords Solicitors
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Finding and retaining the best talent is a challenge for any scalable business. To grow quickly while keeping costs to a minimum you need to ensure each and every person working within your business is adding value in a myriad of different ways.

Here are the five key lessons I’ve learnt about hiring based on my experience of building a business that has 60 support staff and senior management, and 174 consultant lawyers.

1. Find the best talent (and don’t compromise)

Finding the best talent is only partly about finding the most qualified talent – it’s also about finding people with the right attitude. For us, recruiting those who are positive and optimistic is more important than even their skill-set because of the key benefits they bring a scaling business – namely freeing up management to concentrate on continued growth.

Quality work from talent is a given, but an optimistic employee’s attitude is infectious, it spreads and motivates others and encourages teamwork. 

Positive, optimistic people don’t need to be closely managed or given constant encouragement, they are self-motivated to do their best work and take well to delegation and change, so there is less of a need to motivate and manage them giving you that freedom to focus your energies on scaling.  

Quality work from talent is a given, but an optimistic employee’s attitude is infectious, it spreads and motivates others and encourages teamwork. A scalable business needs those that share the passion and vision, and people with the right attitude help unite everyone around a common goal.  

Remember though, don’t compromise. It's better to wait for the best talent than to take second best, second best will drain you of time and effort and distract you from growth. Also, don’t be too rigid with your recruitment plan and always be on the lookout for the best talent – growing businesses change direction all the time.

2. Put people in the right roles in the business

Once you have found the best talent carefully consider whether they are in the right positions in the business. Sometimes you will have hired the right person, but haven’t put them in a position that best suits their skills. Be prepared to be flexible and tweak roles to ensure the talent you have hired can shine, once they do it will be great for them and great for business growth.  

It becomes a fine balancing act between not being over staffed or under staffed and this has been a big challenge for us.

You won’t always get it right.  We have spent 10 years recruiting staff, but we still make mistakes and despite lateral moves nothing works. When this happens it’s often time to say goodbye – this will be right for them and right for your business.

3. Importance of training

Training staff at the right time is vital to a scaling business. If you don’t have sufficient people coming through the ranks to keep up with increasing levels of income then growth can stall. This requires a constant assessment of income levels, new business and cashflow, but even then it is a huge challenge - it becomes a fine balancing act between not being over staffed or under staffed and it is easy to get this wrong. This has probably been one of our greatest challenges.

4. Treat them well

Finding great staff and making them even better is one thing, but the next challenge is retaining them. And, it’s not always about money. Appreciation, opportunity, flexibility, training, culture, support are all vital if you want to hold on to the greatest talent.

At Setfords we consider ourselves a service provider to our lawyers and the emphasis is on us to treat them so well that they don’t want to leave. But, we take the same approach to our head office staff that form the support team. After years of investment both in time and money, we would be mad not to make them feel valued.

5. Don’t forget to communicate

Communicating with staff is no different to communicating in any relationship – if you don’t do it constantly you’re in danger of losing it. An ongoing dialogue with the people you work with is vital to ensuring any issues are addressed before they have time to fester. A once-yearly appraisal is helpful, but not always the answer. Treat your staff as you would your partner - don’t neglect them. This will encourage them to stay and assist with the growth and success of your business.


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