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Slow Down, Clean Up HR Issues, and Accelerate to Win

*I wrote this article for HRPS, VOLUME 41 | ISSUE 3 | SUMMER 2018

Having held HR leadership roles in large enterprise companies with over 80,000 employees, as well as startups with 50-100 employees, I have learned about the power and importance of culture and, more importantly, investing in a highly capable HR function. As a function, we haven’t done ourselves many favors when it comes to our brand.

As Chris Yeh points out, speed and efficiency are critical, yet our brand as HR process police and compliance crusaders is seen as a block to going fast. Our legacy reputation makes many startup leaders cringe and, in the past, this has resulted in de-prioritizing HR.

But times are changing.

HR is increasingly being seen as essential for startup health and performance, and we are no longer an afterthought. In the past 24 months, critical conversations around company culture, integrity of leadership, and sexual harassment in the workplace have focused on the absence of HR. As these conversations escalate so does the status of HR elevate. Startups are realizing that they have no choice but to pay close attention to their people practices. They realize that they aren’t getting anywhere fast with a toxic cultures or hasty practices that don’t show true care and investment in their people.

With company practices becoming more and more visible through nation- wide movements, critical conversation in the industry, and direct feedback from employees through Glassdoor and Blind, it’s clear that a culture-first strategy is essential to achieving business success. In the startup community this visibility has caused a noticeable ripple of reflection, resulting in a deeper and more intentional investment in HR talent, culture, diversity, and an under- standing of the power of people.

A startup’s natural agility is also one of its most powerful tools in the race to break bad habits. Making changes quickly is what a startup does best. While mending or building culture takes time, startups can make bold moves to make impactful change pretty much immediately in ways that legacy or established companies cannot. The lack of embedded processes is a curse but also a gift because there is less to undo and less interconnected HR process to untangle.

Smart startups are lighting up stellar HR teams, focusing on developing clear people practices, and re-coding their cultures in deliberate and mindful ways. They are recognizing that the race for speed is riddled with hurdles and obsta- cles—clearing them out of the way is the difference between making it or falling to the sideline with irreparable injuries or wounds that can derail speed and decimate velocity.

Startups are changing and many already have taken the time to build out their processes across HR, especially in recruiting.

I am seeing smart startups taking the time to ensure hiring criteria are clear, job descriptions are relevant to requirements, interview processes are consistent, and hiring teams are trained and enabled. This takes a few extra cycles of front-end time but once built, they allow you to fly.

The key is to design with perpetuity in mind. A well-aligned process focused on fairness, consistency, and cultural relevance will always be a lot faster than lack of clarity, stop and go, and paralysis from not knowing what to do next. The truth is there are tons of things at start- ups that move slowly, simply because many things are ad hoc. Often no one has established a clear and repeatable way to get from A to B and therefore each time feels new again. While start- ups make decisions quickly and impact happens fast, cleaning up ad-hoc deci- sions and replacing them with a focus on streamlining repeatable actions will create efficiencies. There may just be enough time to build out those people practices after all.

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