Q&A with Mark McLeish (Head of HR)


It is fair to say that the last couple of years have been challenging for most companies across the world, especially when it comes to retaining and attracting talent.

We have seen a rapid change in the way we work, and we have had to adapt quickly to using modern technologies, thereby enabling us all to maintain communication, connections and inspire collaborations via virtual interactions on zoom, MS teams and/or conference calls.

People have embraced a new – found freedom and flexibility, which has evolved from the now agile and hybrid working practices adopted by organisations around the world. This, however, has then led to the “Great Resignation” or what many would call “the Great Realization;” and the adage ‘the grass is greener springs to mind.

It was our pleasure to talk with Mark McLeish about the importance of HR in driving the agenda forward and HR’s integral role for startups, with references to talent retention and how company culture can have a profound influence on this. Mark has 18 years of experience across HR, recruitment and, talent management, within a wide spectrum of industries, having worked in the UK, Europe, Australia, and Asia.

Why is HR crucial to start ups at inception phase?

HR have vast expertise across multiple functions: hiring the right talent; calculating rewards and benefits (this requires market knowledge and awareness of candidate expectations; these days, it’s not enough to offer competitive salaries, companies – and especially startups – must create an environment and, a work culture that is more attractive than just a large paycheck and the opportunity to earn millions); building workplace culture (this is achieved by implementing robust policies and processes); and talent development and training (being in touch with the aspirations of employees and giving them access to relevant and structured training programs, which nurtures skills and abilities).

What would be the top five essential start up considerations?

1. Clear business strategies – Leaders need to be clear, aligned and in unison always.

2. Attitude – 100% of the team needs to adopt a strategic, tactical attitude, and then execute and deliver this mindset and approach each day during infancy. All hands-on deck, no room for passengers!
3. Setting realistic goals – both corporate and cascading goals. 
4. Agreed and available investment in key functions – budgets must be in place for HR essentials to compete for talent.
5. Attracting and hiring the right talent – skilled and strategic recruiters are required from day one; team and admin management cannot pick this up.

Is HR one-size-fits-all?

No, HR is not one-size-fits-all! A company’s ethos is specific to each individual organisation, together with its expectations, values, mission, and vision.

I have found that with each start-up you must first meet with all staff at all levels to better understand individuals, team dynamics, roles, current culture and relationships, not only to initially build rapport but also to gain invaluable feedback.  This ensures the building of a picture of where staff are at before painting a picture of where your brand of HR can take them.

Only after you understand the current people and culture can you then start to properly formulate your HR strategy before seeking buy-in from leaders and team. By then you find yourself in unfamiliar territory drawing on all your experiences to meet the unique needs of your new start-up.

What would be your top tips for a strong HR foundation?

A strong HR foundation is fundamental to the success of a business, especially for startups. Good HR leadership is comprised of professionals that can:

  • Effectively communicate with both their stakeholders and employees.  
  • Align with the company’s culture, providing both an inclusive and diverse environment;
  • Be open and transparent about policies and procedures, visions and values and business goals;
  • Listen to and focus on the needs of their talents; and
  • Be empathetic. Empathy is a critical HR leadership skill. It helps build and sustain positive workplace relationships, foster diversity and inclusion, encourage cooperation and collaboration and facilitate conflict management.

We would like to hear from you. Contact our Director, Pauline Mei-Ling Williams at pwilliams@atriumhr.com