Starting with HR

starting with hr
Illustration: Studio Fee Overbeeke

The newly appointed people operations manager of a fast growing scale-up (120 people today) called me. She had just started, and 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 organisation with 120 people hire their own HR manager? Usually the pattern is something like the following:

  • Managers in the organisation are fed up with all the people work. Recruitment, selection, contracting, onboarding, dealing with issues etc. becomes too much work.
  • It is decided to hire an HR manager (people operations manager, chief happiness officer, what have you), with the hope that she or he will quickly deal with all the issues.
  • It is not so easy to find a top HR professional for such a small organisation, also because there is most of the time not a lot of money to be payed. Luckily someone 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 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 she asks for more people in her team. The first grumbling can be heard. “We thought with HR things would be better, but we hardly see this. 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 organisations can afford. A partner who can find specialists when required, and who knows what organisations comparable to you are doing. A partner who knows about cool 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 decentralised, but should be taken at the top. Selection should include 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 colours).  Interviews should be highly structured.

3. Provide good coaches for personal development

Many people chose to work for you, because they want to learn and develop. Not many people are suitable coaches, and the interests of the organisation are not necessarily aligned with those of the 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. It will take your eye of your main focus: building a scalable people operations organisation. 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 for all your staff. Make clear, the coaches are personal coaches for them, and that the coaches will not communicate in any way to the organisation. Use of a coach is not mandatory, but you can communicate 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. Simple short surveys, that help you to get feedback on where to focus the improvement efforts. You can relate the engagement data to other people and business data (turnover, supervisors, productivity etc).  Think like marketing, not like HR.

Time was up, more advice to be given, but these four points might be a good start.


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