The 3 Things Startup Founders Need to Know About HR

This post was originally posted to the Forbes CIO Network here: The 3 Things Startup Founders Need to Know About HR

Ask any startup CEO to rank their greatest challenges, and inevitably human resources makes the list.

For new ventures, a little preparation can mean the difference between creating a culture of success, or becoming completely bogged down by people problems at a time when you can least afford to make mistakes.

Unfortunately, simply recognizing HR challenges isn’t enough. Prioritizing is vital: there are too many to tackle on your own. Doing a good job at any one challenge costs you precious time and resources. Doing a good job at every challenge means sacrificing other core business operations with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Time is your greatest asset and you should value it that way. Think carefully about how to spend it. Before you attack a problem, ask yourself: Would I pay someone $1,500 per hour to solve this for me?

For common HR challenges like recruiting, development and project management, the answer should be a resounding “No.”  These are tactical issues that can be easily solved at a lower cost.

There are, however, three strategic HR issues that require your attention. If you fail to solve them, your business will fail. These challenges deserve the big bucks.

1. Personality Matters

Creating the right ‘mix’ of employees within your organization from Day 1 is key. Your staff needs to reflect the diversity of your customer base, rather than simply mirroring the personality type of the business founders.

To build a successful business, begin by understanding the personalities and personas of your customers. Marketing, customer support, sales and product management plans should be designed with total focus on your diverse customer base. Companies that lack diversity – both in the traditional sense, and in a diversity of personalities – will find it very difficult to accomplish this task.

Corporate culture needs to value respectful debate, conflicting voices and differing perspectives. Groupthink, a form of decision-making that involves little discussion or disagreement, can destroy you.

Founders need to self-examine; to learn about their own preferences and peculiarities; and to balance them by hiring a diversity of perspectives.

2. Be Transparent

Most startup founders I have encountered wonder how much information they should share with staff. They want employees to be informed about the business and have all of the information they need to work effectively, but are reluctant to share confidential information or to burden employees with excessive communication.

Employees want clarity from their leaders, but sharing for the sake of sharing is not productive. Be sure you are sharing information with intent – being transparent with irrelevant information leads to ambiguity and uncertainty.

Timing is equally important; be deliberate in the time you choose to share information. Information shared too early may cause employees to shift priorities too soon, and information shared too late may undermine employee confidence.

When employees have enough of the right information from the right source, the time and support they need to put the information into context, and the freedom to express their reactions and ask questions of their managers, only then are you properly leveraging transparency.

Effective managers put careful thought and consideration into determining the right level of sharing for their environment. And they follow up with a conscious, disciplined effort to sustain it as the company grows and changes.

3. Follow the “Why” Forward

Only a clear vision backed by a strong “why” can turn employees into rockstars.

Individuals work best when they can make decisions on their own; when they have the skills, knowledge and training necessary for their role; and when they understand the purpose of their job within the organization.

As a founder you are driven and passionate about your “why”, however as your company grows, you must rely on your team to represent the company to partners, customers and the community.

If they cannot explain why the company exists, or it’s greater calling, your message will never spread. Startup founders need to spend time making sure that their initial employees share their vision of a better future, empowering them to be effective flag-bearers.

A safe way to do this is to put as much attention and resources into managing your employees as you do into managing your customers. Employees should feel connected, important and valued.

Founders must articulate the company’s values and become a true champion for communicating its vision.

Imagine a business that can explain the better future it wants to create, with plans in place to support employees, with career roadmaps that have ample room for growth. Imagine a company where all employees understand the difference they are trying to make in the world every day they come in to work.

This is the why forward.

Most startup founders spend time with employees articulate what the company does and whom it does it for, but very few an articulate why the company is in this business.

When combined, aligned personalities, transparency and the why forward will powerfully motivate and engage employees. Their absence creates turmoil, distress, and dysfunction.

In the small, close-knit environment of a startup, internal disruption can be disastrous. Startup founders can’t afford to dwell on tactical HR issues. But they can’t afford to ignore strategic HR problems either. The time to build a culture of success is now.

Photo Credit: City of Olathe, KS

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JosephFung
web tech entrepreneur
waterloo region enthusiast
ninja in-training