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Scaling & Retaining: Hiring People & HR Leaders

Calendar icon 20th July 2022

By Dan Briselden. Dan is a Director at Zeren, and leads our HR, Operations and Finance hiring vertical from the UK.

The vast amounts of venture dollars pouring into UK and European start-ups is well known, and while there is an equally well-documented adjustment occurring in the market, the focus and opportunities for ambitious entrepreneurs and innovative businesses remain huge.


This has led to a sharp increase in the demand for talent, with many rapidly-scaling organisations now fishing in the same pool – and this pool hasn’t grown to keep up with demand!


This has made an already competitive marketplace, an extremely challenging environment to secure great talent, and the typical mix of experience which businesses look for in candidates (corporate ‘best practice’ followed by start-up ‘speed and culture’) is in very short supply. Companies can no longer rely on standard outbound talent acquisition tactics; tech professionals know that they are in high demand, with inboxes full of offers from employers vying for their attention, and they are often already being well compensated and looked after by their current organisations.


The pandemic has inspired a shift in how employees think about their place of work; it is no longer an office destination of bricks and mortar, and people no longer want to complete a 2-hour commute to the office 5 days a week. Working in hyper-growth Tech is more about the mission, purpose and in some cases, passion that is additive to the lifestyle of the employee. We are seeing a huge demand for remote working, hybrid working, and we have even seen companies such as Atom Bank pioneer the first 4-day work week here in the UK.


Given the increased stakes in the market and the need for a more strategic approach to scaling and retention, we have seen record numbers of Heads of People, Directors of People and VP, People hires made by our clients.


The role of a VP, People is so much more than hiring and firing; it’s about designing a People strategy and vision that is aligned to the business goals, creating a fantastic employee experience and building a great culture where employees love to work that drives high performance, innovation and success without becoming toxic and dictatorial. There are many levers in this process ,and hiring a professional who can manage the delicate balance is key.


We speak with CEOs and Founders regularly who recognise how critical it is to have a strategic People leader in their business; in many cases this can be the difference between success and failure.


Here are some things to consider when hiring your first, senior People or HR Leader:


  • Investment. Often, roles begin as stand-alone, which is economical in the earlier stages but as the company begins to grow, to effectively implement a People strategy you will require teams of specialists to deliver key projects. Initial team hires will be more generalist, but as the company begins to scale, the demand for more People specialisms start to emerge, such as People Operations, Business Partnering, Learning and Talent. You will also need to invest in HR Systems, Talent Systems, Engagement Platforms and Analytics Tools to create data insights and streamline the employee experience.


  • Leadership. People Leaders can bring well-needed stewardship and coaching at the Executive-level, working with the Founders and Leadership team to build a deeper understanding of their vision and pain-points of the business, and create people-driven solutions to drive positive change. A great People Leader can also work in collaboration with other functional leaders as a “sparring partner” to help offer a new perspective and highlight blind spots, enabling Executives and Managers to become more effective leaders, and have greater impact in the business.


  • Strategic. People Leaders are able to operate strategically, understanding the business challenges and goals and formulating a step-by-step plan to deliver a scalable People strategy that is fit for purpose, not just in the ‘here and now’, but also with a focus on the future state of the business. It is important to have a leader who has experience in the key milestones of scaling a company, and a playbook of interventions to implement at key inflection points throughout the journey.


  • Data. Hiring a People Leader with a capacity for data and the ability to build meaningful people analytics can be hugely beneficial. Having key People data-points at your fingertips will ensure that you have your finger on the pulse of the organisation, across all metrics, to enable the best decision making.


  • Culture. Having a People Leader who can positively influence the culture of your business can be invaluable. A great People Leader will help you create a culture of performance, equality and belonging – building on the mission, vision and purpose to create values that align to the business objectives. One of the most valuable assets in today’s market, is a strong employee value proposition; creating a coherent employer brand that enables you to not only attract but also retain the best talent, is absolutely critical to the success of your business.


  • Employee Experience. Experience doesn’t just sit with your Customer Success team, it permeates through your organisation. Working with a People Leader to create a positive People Experience in your organisation can be hugely beneficial to the engagement and retention of your staff. People Leaders will be able to skillfully implement technologies, tools and processes to streamline, automate and simplify key check points in the employee life-cycle, including onboarding, performance management, first-line employee support and learning, to name a few.


At Zeren, we have recently completed several, senior appointments for hyper-growth Tech companies who have entrusted us to partner with, and help them hire leaders across: People & Culture, Head of Employer Brand, Head of Talent, Director of People Operations and Head of Business Partnering.


If you are thinking about how to hire your first People Leader, or are reaching a point where you would like to build a People and Talent team, then please get in touch to discuss how we can support you with your current hiring needs.



Zeren exists to empower the world’s change makers. We do this by building high-performing teams in the world’s most innovative businesses, to accelerate growth by connecting visionary leaders and ambitious talent.


We are a leading global Executive Search & Recruitment firm with teams and offices in San Francisco, Houston, New York, London, Berlin and Frankfurt.


We partner with both high growth, VC/PE backed businesses and ambitious Corporate brands placing senior leaders, building exceptional teams, or providing critical interim and consulting talent.