Hiring from first principles

Each week during Season Two of The Flip, we’re going to publish an essay that corresponds with that week’s podcast episode. This week is Season Two, Episode Ten: Smart People Should Build Things – On Recruiting and the Global Competition for Top Talent, featuring Ijeoma Oyeyinka – Head of Human Resources at Helium Health, Mansi Babyloni – Global Head of People Strategy at Flutterwave, Toun Tunde-Anjous – Founder, The People Practice, Charles Sekwalor – Founder, Movemeback, and Aaron Fu – Co-founder of Venture for Africa. 

There is a talent shortage on the continent, so says the ecosystem.

While that’s probably true, it’s also probably true that in looking for a certain type of talent, with a certain type of experience – especially in a nascent environment and when the experience in question is nascent technology or disciplines – that we’re missing out on talent that has the aptitude to get the job done.

This is something expressed in our most recent podcast episode by Charles Sekwalor, the CEO of Movemeback, a platform better organizing opportunities across Africa. He and I talked about the opportunity for a better “translation” of roles, particularly for those less familiar with startups, 

You don’t get up as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs and say, ‘I want to move to the continent and do investment banking’. There’s a translation of skillset also happening. Some people understand it and some people are able to navigate it… and others won’t even go anywhere near it because they’re like, I’m an investment banker in Goldman, I really want to do something on the continent, but there isn’t something continent that fits, so I’ll wait five years until that comes along. Unbeknown to them that actually where we’re seeing the greatest success is people who are transferring their skills, which they’ve built up in one particular career, and applying it to the continent in a way that fills a very needed gap. 

The same logic applies for inexperienced talent, as well. We’ve all seen the posts on social media of a recruiter looking for talent with five years of experience with a programming language, for example, that’s only been around for three years. At the same time, the African tech ecosystem may be looking for a select, narrow type of experienced talent that doesn’t exist (or doesn’t exist in abundance). On this point, Charles said,

When operating on the African continent, talent doesn’t necessarily come packaged in a way that we’re used to outside, with a perfect two-page CV, with all the labels, and some references at the bottom. That doesn’t mean that there’s not hugely capable and hugely valuable talent that exists on the continent. So our first job is to make sure that we can ensure that those who have the capabilities, those who do have relevant experience can be found and can present themselves in a way that allows them to be found.

While it may be the work of the talent – and those working in the talent and development space – to help talent present themselves in a way that allows them to be found, the responsibility falls on the side of the companies and recruiters, as well.

Our goal – like so much else – is to hire from first principles, to focus on function over form

When most people envision the future, they project the current form forward rather than projecting the function forward and abandoning the form. For instance, when criticizing technological progress some people ask, “Where are the flying cars?” Here’s the thing: We have flying cars. They’re called airplanes. People who ask this question are so focused on form (a flying object that looks like a car) that they overlook the function (transportation by flight).

Easier said than done, of course, but the challenge – and opportunity – from a talent perspective is not only training talent and bringing over experienced talent into the ecosystem, but broadening the scope of talent that can get the job done.

Did you enjoy this?

Join over 1,200 founders, investors, and employees of venture-backed startups and Africa-focused funds subscribed to The Flip Notes.

Join over 1,000 entrepreneurs who read and listen to The Flip.