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PeopleOps / HR – From Early Stage, to Growth, to Iconic Company… What is needed?

No matter what size company you’re in right now, these challenging economic conditions can feel like “uncertain waters.” Startups can feel like scull boats crewed by enthusiastic small teams with charismatic captains. If they cross the finish line repeatedly, the leaders can add more hands and upgrade to a bigger, faster speed boat. Over time, successful companies outgrow their speed boat stage and transition to a series of larger boats (bare bones barge? fancy yacht anyone?) to fully staffed, sleek ocean liners.

You don’t have to be an experienced sailor to realize the crews of each ship require different skills. Last month we talked about layoffs, and one way to minimize them is to have the right people on board and to do your best not to overstaff the ship. 

So, what is the best way to crew your company, and what have we learned about staffing in the various stages of growth? This month’s post looks at strategies anchored by key crew members and People Team Northstars based on the company stage.

Startup Sculls

Revenue: Up to $50m

Company Crew size:  4 – 50

Key Crew Member: Fractional CPO

PeopleOps Northstar: Cultural clarity

Startup PeopleOps Strategy: Work with a great recruiter, hire generalists and interim expertise

What you want here is a recruiter who will not only help you scale but will also be your cultural gatekeeper. One good recruiter can help you scale with quality because they understand the company values and they are selling the “why work here” while asking the values of candidates to ensure alignment across all open roles. 

Startups have small, nimble, multitasking crews and limited provisions. A big part of the startup leadership challenge is keeping everyone rowing steady and strong through chaotic uncertain waters. 

At Forshay, we’ve seen increased attention from Venture Capitalists advising founders to invest in PeopleOps from the start, versus viewing it as a luxury for later. And they are 100% right, as the cost of hiring ineffectively, inaccurately, and/or missing the boat on building a healthy culture has an immediate cost on the P&L, even if there isn’t a single line item actually tracking it. The cost is borne by all the line items…missed revenue, additional costs, and of course, opportunity costs that allow a competitor to pull ahead. 

So what do we advise? The startup PeopleOps strategy includes hiring an experienced generalist –  a key crew member who can do many things well. Startups may also benefit from bringing onboard temporary expertise via interim or fractional experts (e.g. compensation is a key one) that don’t require long-term, full-time employment. Additionally, while a strategic Chief People Officer is not a full-time role that is needed, having a fractional CPO who can advise is money oh-so-well-invested. 

Having been a startup ourselves, we get you. Reach out if you feel like your team could use any of these roles to keep you all rowing in the same direction. 

Speedboats for Growth

Revenue: $20M – $300M

Company Crew size: 50 – 500

Key Crew Members: A Head of People who is strategic and tactical, with the ability to lead a small team. A small team on the low end of revenue would be an HR generalist and recruiter, and on the higher end of growth could include comp/benefits, leadership & development, and a small recruiting team. Interim remains an ideal strategy for key projects that don’t need a full-time headcount (supporting cultural values work, compensation design, performance management design, workshops for new managers, etc.)

PeopleOps Northstar: Supporting high performance & retention

Growth PeopleOps Strategy: Create systems approach for each HR function so that managers who are now layered into growth can be supported in recruiting, performance management, learning & development.

If all goes well, startups move into a (slightly!) more stable growth stage, often fueled by additional funding from investors. Companies are able to hire more hands on deck, and this is often when that strategic Chief People Officer is a key full-time hire to make (yes, we’re happy to help here). 

Companies build their core crews in this stage, and company culture evolves with a large percentage of new hires and may become more complex as the original values of an organization may have morphed with new leaders plus possible pivots in the business direction. 

Rather than relying on generalists as they did in the startup phase, the C-suite can think about plugging holes in the PeopleOps teams where deeper expertise is desired. Need some data-backed specifics to anchor around? Check out Forshay’s Future of Teams DNA Strand methodology as a map for future People Ops goals. 

The CPO can spend more time surveying the horizon and strategizing the next leg of the journey. This is the time to lay the groundwork for important recruiting and retention initiatives for future growth, like performance management, sustainability, or setting up a DEI framework.

When companies lay the foundation in this stage, they avoid needing to paddle backward in a bigger boat later (always MUCH harder). Just think of the companies who have made the headlines in ways that no one wants to be in the headlines. 

At Forshay, we are often brought in when companies are in these growth transition points, to either help them hire the key players and/or fill in with interim experts. We’ve seen how the ideal CPO may have demonstrated competency as an HR leader (sometimes a division head at bigger company) with the key issue being do they get the picture while being scrappy and can roll up their sleeves? One example of a company moving from speedboat to oceanliner is Roblox. They brought us in to help them hire while they were scaling, and wanted an HR Director who knew what good looked like as a larger organization, while still having a roll-up-your-sleeves attitude and staying power (meaning they wouldn’t burn out).  

Are you sensing a need to adjust your PeopleOps course to optimize your speed boat phase? We’re here for a coffee chat on deck anytime! 

Ocean Liner

Revenue:  $500M+

Crew Size: 500+

New Key Crew Members: HR Program Manager, Communications, L&D

PeopleOps Northstar: Embracing the complexity of individual and team performance with the  Team DNA Essentials – well-being, creativity, learning mindset, DEI+belonging, performance management, culture.

Iconic Company PeopleOps Strategy:  Differentiate to optimize talent attraction, performance, growth, and retention.

Large organizations that have successfully navigated the marketplace are a special breed. They may be experiencing year after year hockey stick growth, which creates more complexity for PeopleOps. Successfully navigating the Oceanliner stage requires the right systems, people, and matrixed teams to keep steady no matter what storms hit it. 

To avoid a Titanic outcome (or enter your least favorite company doom story here), it’s about  nurturing the four essentials Forshay has identified for team health is paramount – well-being, creativity, learning mindset, and DEI+belonging. 

In this phase, why would an employee want to work for a company of your size where growth may be slowing? Programs around learning and development, family leave, flexible work arrangements, and competitive total rewards programming can help companies attract and retain high performers. 

At another large gaming company, we helped design talent management processes and metrics for performance management, supported their DEI efforts with an interim DEI leader, and leveraged their “center of excellence” team with try-before-you-hire Program Managers.

We have experience providing interim consultants and contract–to-hire resources to who can bolster recruiting teams, build HR functions, and implement HR tools and technology. We can also run a parallel search for key HR leaders.

PeopleOps is complex for Oceanliners. Could you use some feedback tailored for your large organization? We’re here for you. 

Smooth Sailing

To optimize PeopleOps resources, it’s essential to have a solid strategy in place that takes into account the future vision while at the same time aligning with your growth stage. From start-ups to large corporations, key crew members, areas of focus, and strategies for filling the ranks vary over time.

At Forshay, we are obsessed with holistic, data-backed PeopleOps solutions for our clients. Whether you are leading a small scull crew or a large, multilayered organization, we can help you with PeopleOps strategies to help navigate today’s uncertain waters. Let’s go!