HR in the Startup Context: Making the First HR Hire

HR in the Startup Context: Making the First HR Hire

(a version of this article was originally published in kapta systems blog, March 12, 2012)

In some cases there may be resistance to bringing an HR person on board, as many startup managers make the false assumption that their nascent “culture” will be killed.  There may be a feeling that adding structure and process will necessarily make things more formal and bureaucratic.

Keeping people functioning well in their jobs while having fun would be the core of any competent HR person’s job – so it’s the individual you hire for this key position and the qualities and competencies they bring that can positively impact the culture.

  • If the organization is already fairly large and still growing rapidly (50-100 employees), a more senior HR Manager/Director with experience designing policy, compensation, stock and performance programs and managing systems implementations should be considered early on.  If you already have an HR administrator or office manager handling the function, this will probably come as a welcome addition at this time.
  • Make sure the individuals you hire for your People function are a cultural fit and seem flexible. Prior startup experience is a major plus here – there’s a difference between the types of events and issues that occur in a new company with (possibly) less seasoned managers as opposed to an established organization. Many corporate HR people who join startups aren’t always able to anticipate how well they’ll function in this type of environment, even if they’ve done a ton of change management or M & A work in the past.
  • If you’re bringing rock stars on board for your business and product teams, then don’t make an exception when hiring for HR.  Your HR team should have a similar employment provenance and will need to be on an educational and intellectual par with the rest of the team if they are to perform and communicate effectively.  If you’re using the phrase “we only hire really smart people”, make sure this philosophy is true for all functions in the organization.
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October 2, 2012