The newly appointed people operations manager of a fast-growing scale-up (120 people today) called me. She had just started, and asked if I could give some advice. We drank a coffee in Amsterdam. Below a short summary of my tips.
1. Don’t hire an HR manager
My first message was: I would not have hired you. Why would an organization with 120 people hire their own HR manager? Usually, the pattern is something like the following:
- Managers in the organization are fed up with all the people work. Recruitment, selection, contracting, onboarding, dealing with issues etc. becomes too much work and takes up too much time.
- It is decided to hire an HR manager (people operations manager, chief happiness officer, what have you), hoping that she or he will quickly deal with all the issues.
- It is not easy to find a top HR professional for such a small organization, mainly because most of the time, there is not a lot of money to be paid. Luckily, someone usually knows someone who likes to work with people, and the decision is made to give it a try.
- The newly appointed Jack-of-all-trades is quickly flooded with work. Recruitment requires a lot of attention, and soon he or she is the go-to person for all things slightly people related. Help!!
- The HR manager has no time to work on structural, scalable solutions. Soon he or she asks for more people on her team. The first grumblings can be heard. “We thought with HR things would be better, but we hardly see any improvement. Maybe it is better to do some things ourselves”.
- The quality of the people hired drops. Staff turnover increases and more vacancies need to be filled. A negative vicious circle.
My choice would be to outsource HR. Find a partner who can act as your HR department, and who can offer you tailored services at a level far beyond what small organizations can afford. A partner who can find specialists when required, and who knows what organizations similar to you are doing. A partner who knows about innovative HR Tech solutions that work.
2. Focus on selecting the best
The best investment you can do is making sure you have a very solid and rigid selection process. Lowering the selection threshold is a big risk, especially in fast-growing companies. Hiring decisions should not be decentralized but should be taken at the top. Selection should include pre-employment assessments like personality and capability tests, not just a couple of interviews. There are attractive gamified tests on the market, with high validity (do not use MBTI or tests where the reports contain any reference to primary colors). Interviews should be highly structured.
3. Provide good coaches for personal development
Many people choose to work for you because they want to learn and develop themselves. Not many people are suitable coaches, and the interests of the organization are not necessarily aligned with those of its employees. Employees will be looking for guidance, and when there is an HR professional available, they will turn to you. Coaching 120 people is a lot of work, and probably you are not very good at this. Besides, it will take your eye off your main focus: building a scalable people operations organization. There are many good coaches available, today there are even chatbot coaches. Make a selection, or choose an online coaching platform, and make this available to your entire workforce. Stress that the coaches are personal coaches for them and that the coaches will not communicate in any way to the organization. Tell your employees that the use of a coach isn’t mandatory, but that you expect people to check in 2-4 times per year.
4. Measure engagement continuously and invest in people analytics
Design a simple process to measure employee engagement frequently. There are many good apps available, and if you use Slack, there are several plugins you can use (read Trends in employee mood measurement). Measure how your candidates and employees experience the different parts of their journey. Use simple, short surveys that help you get feedback on where to focus your improvement efforts. You can relate the engagement data to other people and business data (turnover, supervisors, productivity etc). When it comes to data and analytics, think like a marketing pro, not like an HR professional.
Time was up, more advice is yet to be given, but these four points might be a good start.
Image credits: Studio Fee Overbeeke.
Subscribe and stay up-to-date.