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Shortlist and Spire: Building Africa’s First Full-Stack Talent Platform

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Shortlist and Spire: Building Africa’s First Full-Stack Talent Platform
By Grace Horwitz 

Last November, Spire Education, one of Blue Haven’s portfolio companies, merged with Shortlist, a talent sourcing and screening business operating across India and Kenya. The merger was a first for the Blue Haven portfolio, but also for the broader human capital industry in East Africa. With complementary offerings, the combined Shortlist-Spire team is now capable of supporting clients across the talent spectrum. As Shortlist CEO, Paul Breloff, put it in his November announcement, “This is a match made in heaven…Shortlist can help companies build their teams, and Spire can help make sure those teams are equipped with the skills needed to succeed.” As we celebrate the three-month anniversary of the Shortlist-Spire union in Nairobi this week with Paul, Jenn (former Spire CEO and now MD of Africa for Shortlist and Spire) and the rest of the Shortlist-Spire team, here’s why we’re excited to have them in the Blue Haven family.

Last year, Lauren and I discussed why human capital is important to us as investors. While our website is littered with the logos of portfolio companies, a more accurate depiction of what we’re betting on might be a photo collage of the teams behind them. Companies are only as good as the people that run them, and that means hiring, training and retaining the best talent. Regardless of the industry, most executives cite people as their most important asset. However, in their quest to retain more “A-players,” very few feel as though they’ve cracked the code to maximize potential across roles, levels, and functional areas.

This problem is particularly challenging for quickly-growing small and medium sized businesses that lack dedicated resources and the staff time to focus on talent. As part of a small organization, I’m familiar with this tension. It took my boss, Lauren, over a year to hire her first Associate (me) because she was juggling days that looked like this. We just hired our second Associate, Sarah, and I’m positive I’ve underdelivered in the onboarding and training category in more ways than one (sorry Sarah!). This makes for a vicious cycle — small and medium sized businesses are painfully constrained for time and resources, making it difficult to invest in hiring, upskilling, and retaining employees, which in turns puts even more pressure on an already overworked team — a so-called talent hamster wheel.

The reality is, sometimes we need help from the outside. But when it comes to hiring and developing your employees, it can be hard to find the right partner. The traditional mode of outsourcing HR activities tends to be of the transactional, hit-and-run nature — hire a head hunter to track down a bunch of CVs ASAP, and they do it, but without understanding culture, the business itself, or what soft skills a candidate will require. Or management brings someone in to conduct a half-day training for junior staff, and while you may feel pretty good after a couple of trust falls, three months down the road you realize that the exercise had no real impact on your employees’ performance. And when these talent service providers are all separate companies, you spend a lot of time re-explaining exactly what you’re looking for in an ideal team member — wouldn’t it be nice if the same people who hired your new sales team were the ones who trained them too?

Point solutions that claim to offer “just-in-time” support are not always the best approach, especially in the context of building an effective team that is capable of achieving its full potential over time — weeks, months and years. Most firms (unless you’re Google) don’t have the privileges of skimming the best candidates from the top of a stagnant talent pool. That means employers have to start taking a more integrated and proactive approach across the talent life cycle to truly optimize investment in talent. They will need to leverage a combination of technology and human touch to test the competencies of candidates rather than taking resumes at face value and spend time with employees to teach the soft skills and attitudes that drive success in management roles.

Having seen our portfolio companies struggle with talent issues of all flavors and varieties, we are pumped about what Shortlist-Spire is bringing to market in Kenya. Spire and Shortlist focus on different pieces of the talent value chain, but long-term results will be mutually dependent. While Shortlist screens candidates on the basis of competency (not just CV and connections!), Spire helps those candidates reach their full potential through end-to-end talent development and training. In an ideal world, this makes for a seamless bump-set-spike model of maximizing human potential. Though I think both Paul and Jenn would agree that there is still lots to figure out, the Blue Haven Team is excited to be along for the ride!

Originally published on Medium.

Tags:  East Africa  talent 

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