PeopleWhen you’re the owner of a rapidly growing startup or small business, it’s really easy to get swept up in the chase for talent, becoming as obsessed with the skills shortage as the rest of the media. This can be dangerous, because the talent-shortage hysteria is largely focused on technical skills. In the panic, employers often forget about the soft, social skills that are just as important to business success.

An oft-cited study from Leadership IQ shows that just 11 percent of new hires fail due to their lack of technical competence. On the other hand, a massive 89 percent of new hires fail because they lack the necessary soft skills.

If you become too obsessed with sourcing technical skills and neglect to give proper attention to candidates’ soft skills, you will experience more bad hires and higher turnover rates.

But exactly what soft skills should you be looking for in your candidates? Here are four that every startup or small business employee should have:

1. Ability to Adapt to Change

Small, dynamic businesses often exist in slightly volatile states, meaning that such companies need to react and adapt quickly to whatever is going on in their environments.

This is why every employee at your startup or small business will need to be open to and ready for change. You need the kind of people who can let go of their entrenched beliefs about work and shift in new directions at a moment’s notice with enthusiasm and gusto.

2. Problem-Solving Skills

When a small business or startup succeeds, it’s not only because the company delivered great products and services. In fact, it’s largely because the company was able to overcome major obstacles, barriers, and pitfalls on the road to success.

No matter what position you’re filling at your startup or small business, you’ll need to hire someone who can solve problems quickly, time and again, with limited resources on hand — and a positive, upbeat attitude throughout the whole process.

A company with an abundance of problem solving-skills on hand will be the kind of dynamic, agile, and resilient small business or startup that lasts.

3. (The Right Kind of) Creativity

The main way for any business to gain a competitive advantage or break into a crowded market is to offer innovative products and services. Of course, your company can only offer such things if it has plenty of creative thinkers on hand to drive innovation.

Street ArtistsBut you need the right kind of creative thinkers. You don’t need the mad scientist types who create mayhem and chaos. We all loved Doc Brown from Back to the Future, but he’d take your business down in flames long before he got anywhere near building a time machine.

No, what you actually need are “creator-implementers” who can turn their innovative ideas into marketable, profit-making products and services quickly. You need the creator-implementer personality, the person who can jump easily between the world of ideas and the practical realities of the market,

4. Strong Teamwork Skills

Many people make a big deal out of the importance of “teamwork,”, but what does that actually mean?

Teams need members and leaders to work effectively together. Ideally, you’ll be looking for employees who not only perform their own roles well, but who are also prepared to help with other roles outside their own jobs to help the global team effort.

You’ll also need to have a number of people — perhaps one out of every four or five employees — with the ability to take on coordination or managerial duties, either on a permanent or temporary basis. These people will help you galvanize your teams and get the most out of your workforce.

It’s important to get this balance right: too many potential leaders and there will be unhealthy competition for power; too few, and you my find it hard to motivate team members and get them focused.


All successful businesses – whether startups or major corporations — need the right balance of soft skills and technical prowess. Rock star technical skills won’t get you anywhere if you don’t have the proper personalities and attitudes to drive those skills in service of the business.

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