Why your fast-growth start-up needs to overhaul its HR

Like many children I used to suck my thumb.

So much so, my parents said it would turn square. And it kind of has. My left thumb is shaped ever so slightly differently to my right.

Aside from dashing any hopes of a glamorous hand-modelling career, my quirky left thumb bears no influence on my life whatsoever. Sucking my thumb was a childhood phase I grew out of. End of story.

But for the fast-growth tech and e-commerce start-ups I work with, early habits can be much more damaging.

In these rapidly expanding companies, misdirected pressure prevents managers from channeling energy and effectively developing teams. Too often, leadership is compromised.

Add to this the challenge of recruiting fiercely in-demand skills, the changing demands of a young workforce, and the rapidly evolving backdrop against which all this is happening, and you have a perfect storm.

A storm that can shake the foundations of the most committed workforce and result in waning motivation, falling productivity and your best people leaving.

What to do?

Moving from a flat structure to a progression culture

So your start-up is suddenly 500 people plus. Email addresses have surnames and you have people based in multiple locations. For your founding team members, there’s one burning question: what happens now?

Transforming the relatively – and often necessary – flat structure of a start-up into one that nurtures progression, leadership and succession is crucial if you’re to retain talent and keep your core team.

Remember, the world has noticed you and those people who made the start-up such a success.

This is where your new HR leader can step in and build the all-important infrastructure that will take a hardworking, but nebulous workforce and transform it into one that’s better motivated and better engaged.

So who is this HR professional? An experienced all-rounder is crucial here: you’ll need someone who’s willing to roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty and delve deep into the detail. Someone who can happily implement and oversee routine processes and focus on the wider strategy.

This person will possess enough experience to command respect, and know how to bend the rules. After all, fast-growth companies thrive on being disruptive. HR should be no different.

Your new HR leader will have experience of working with younger workforces whose drivers are often different to their older colleagues. He or she will know how to harness these differences and find the best methods of nourishing them.

If there isn’t room for everyone to progress upwards in the company, how else can a person be motivated, for example? (The short answer is through things like training and development, work-life balance, flexibility, and opportunities for volunteering – but that’s for another blog.)

Making HR commercial

For most fast-growth tech and e-commerce companies, in the early stages at least, HR begins and ends with talent acquisition. All too often the setting up of effective and efficient HR processes and operations is left too late.

The company has missed an early opportunity for HR to have a strategic influence across all aspects of the business; for HR to be run like a commercial enterprise. But it’s still not too late, and again, this is where a senior generalist – with exposure to all specialisms within HR – is needed.

This HR professional will be responsible for the delivery of HR services to local teams: from employee relations to recruitment, reward and recognition, through to performance management, organisation design, training and development.

Your new HR professional will be commercially minded, of course. This is absolutely critical: strategic decisions around outsourcing functions and bringing in interims, or launching company-wide reward and recognition policies and incentive plans for sales people, will all result in considerable performance improvements.

Performance improvements, staff retention and streamlined processes – all of which are the hallmarks of high functioning HR services.

And all of which can overcome the most stubborn of young habits.

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