Articles 3 min read

Startups: Do you really need HR? by Ankita Poddar

Maybe not right away. It is highly likely that your initial investment will not be on building an HR team. However, if you are looking for success, there are some things you must pay attention to in the early days. Success for a startup can range from wanting to be acquired by a larger organization, wanting to turn profitable in ‘x’ years or grow in size or offerings. Whatever your definition of success, do not forget to keep your eyes on some basics.  

1. Build a vision statement

It is likely that you think of vision statements as superfluous sentences that adorn a wall. Rightly so. For some organizations, the vision statement is just that. However, for every successful organization, a vision statement is so much more. The vision statement is what guides every single decision and action. Spend significant time to determine what you want your team/startup to stand for. Look at vision statements of large successful organizations. It needs to reflect what the ultimate dream is. It needs to be BIG.

Tip: Try doing a mini version of a visioning exercise with the first few employees. Answer ‘why’ your organization exists.

2. Define culture

What are the values that you want to stand for? What is important to you? What lies at the core of the venture? The answer to these questions will reflect in the ‘values’ and will determine the culture that you want to create. Peter Drucker wasn’t joking when he said – ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ It is a fact. So don’t wait around to define this piece. You might just be too late. Building a culture is easier than changing it. Again, learn from organizations who are famous for having a strong culture in place.

Tip: Once you define your values, check if your current practices reflect them. If not, maybe they aren’t the values you truly value. Re-iterate either the values or the processes until you achieve total alignment.

3. Align your recruiting strategy

You may ignore getting in some core HR professionals but don’t ignore the recruiters. Get a strong recruiter in who will stop you from making silly first moves. You cannot build nor preserve the culture that you want if your hiring strategy isn’t aligned. If innovation is at the heart of your organization, find ways to be able to identify those traits when you hire. If drive and diligence are two values you treasure, don’t pick someone who doesn’t believe in what you are building. Find tried and tested mechanisms to test for the value set you put in place. Remember – skills can be built, values rarely.

Tip: Don’t ask the candidate to answer questions like ‘Why do you want a red pill?’ or ‘If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?’ Yes, I know Google used to ask such questions a long time back and many organizations still do. However, Google has since realized just how poor an indicator these questions are of anything and encourages their interviewers to avoid asking such questions.

4. Structure

Pay attention to how the organization is structured. Remember that structure will continuously evolve as the team grows. Don’t implement a structure that would work when you have a 1000 people to a 50-people team. Put one in place that will work for the next 12 months and re-evaluate every quarter. The span of control and load distribution are important to keep in mind.

Tip: Keep it simple and fluid. The early days are the best time to figure what will work in the long run.

5. Hire your HR team

You knew this would feature. Didn’t you? Don’t wait for too long before you do this. Ideally, start thinking about getting a strong HR team in place when you are close to hitting your first 100 employees. Many HR aspects need in the early days. This is exactly what the team is here to do.

Tip: Get a strong legal/compliance person in place around the same time. Don’t sit on this either.

You can get by without an HR team. You could get by without a marketing, legal and finance team too, but there is a reason why these teams begin to make an appearance at a certain point in time. The sooner you become a good judge of when these teams should begin to enter your startup, the sooner you can focus more on what you really want to do and focus a little less on other pesky stuff you’d rather get out of your hair. Until then, ensure you have an HR pro on speed dial.

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