Human resources hacks for the bootstrapped startup

May 13, 201510:00 am1394 views

In reality, human resources is probably the most under-utilised branch of any organisation. And in the startup world, which spends so much time focussing on hiring the CTO, CFO, and heads of sales and marketing, human resources becomes a complete afterthought. That’s an even bigger mistake.

“Even if your company is too small to have its own HR department,somebody has to be doing HR,” Welch wrote in his book Winning. He thinks there are three reasons an HR team is the most commonly undervalued one:

  1. Human resources is hard to quantify.
  2. Human resources is just administrative tasks.
  3. Human resources is a mix of town crier and your favorite soap opera.

The HR department usually handles the crucial tasks of hiring and payroll, but there’s more purpose in what they do than just these tasks. So what is the true purpose of HR?

True Purpose

Human resources should work to encourage employee retention, team collaboration and intrinsic motivation. A good HR department (or acceptable replacement) will:

  • Mediate differences and disagreements between teammates
  • Help managers nurture leaders and advance careers
  • Lend an ear to employee feedback (and venting)
  • Guide processes for offering feedback to your employees
  • Drive overall motivation for the company

In pretty much every startup or small business I’ve worked with, either the CEO or an assistant performed basic HR functions. Managing payroll and signing paychecks, tax paperwork, made final hiring and firing decisions — while nobody else performed any of those five equally important HR duties.

I’ve learned that if you don’t pay someone, they’ll leave immediately; if you don’t acknowledge their work and nurture their growth, they’ll leave eventually. When your team is so small, you simply cannot afford to risk demotivating or losing staff.

If you can’t afford contracting a full-time HR person, there is definitely more you can do as the CEO of your small business. The responsibility of catering your business to your human resources also lies with all team members: You just need to provide them the tools and education to do just that.

Publicly acknowledge teammates

A rather pessimist species, human beings lose an assumption of value at a rather young age. We are more likely to assume we are doing something wrong if we hear nothing. And when we do receive recognition, it’s often given in private, which does nothing for team building either. Acknowledging our colleagues must be a group effort, where everyone has an equal opportunity to celebrate successes regularly.

Some offices have a bell or a gong that anyone can ring when they have something exciting to announce. Other offices have what Virgin calls Rippas or many other call Kudos. Simply set up a slotted box where people can add their own small notes of thanks and acknowledgement. At the end of the month, you can have a small celebration, reading aloud what colleagues have written — maybe even using it as a raffle for a small prize like movie tickets or leaving a couple hours early next Friday — or you can proudly display the Kudos in a break room or your front lobby.

Work on a remote team? Use this free Kudo Box tool to tweet your gratitude!

Offer Feedback Early & Often

Performance appraisal has become more than a management tool. It has grown into a cultural, almost anthropological symbol of the parental, boss-subordinate relationship that is characteristic of patriarchal organisations.” –Abolishing Performance Appraisals by Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins.

Things move way too fast in the startup world to wait for annual performance appraisals: It’s simply too little too late. And let’s face it, both sides find them incredibly uncomfortable. So, how can an alternative to performance appraisals fit into your already overbooked entrepreneur schedule?

First, performance conversations must happen at least quarterly, so goal-setting and progress reviews are as agile as your business. That feedback must be offered based on specific observations and come paired with suggestions for improvement.

And since every team member is really busy, when you want something to be understood and remembered, write it down. We have this neat tool where we can email feedback, but remember that you need to then take extra care to put it in the right context and portray the right emotional intent.

“Among systems thinkers, it is well-known that 95 per cent of the performance of an organisation is the result of the whole system, not the individual people. It makes little sense to have performance appraisals with individual employees,” argues management guru Jurgen Appelo.

But since we’re stuck with something like them, he suggests you end each conversation with what he calls a Feedback Wrap, which involves staying focussed on both personal improvement and systematic improvement.

Find out what perks they really want

Sure we’d all enjoy an on-site masseuse like Google or remote-controlled stand-up workstations like Zendesk, but would that make us better workers? Others would love a quiet room with a sofa or beanbags that gives them a place to decompress or catnap. Maybe they want the coworking classic of a ping pong table (or maybe that’d really drive them nuts.) Some would rather work 45 minutes later Monday through Thursday in order to get out at lunchtime on Friday. Maybe they’d like a monthly potluck or holiday celebration. Maybe they’d like to create a company basketball team with matching t-shirts.

Or maybe they would be really motivated by the freedom to take a day off without giving notice or knowing that they have a literal stake in the company by being given stock options.

A lot of CEOs try to mimic what the “cool kids” like Google, Apple or Lego are doing, but what works for them won’t necessarily work for your team. It’s important that you talk to your team and find out what they’d really like, what would make them more comfortable so they could focus on work.

How do you do HR?

I love this quote from the Founder Institute: “Your company is only as good as the people building it.” Yes, I know you’re busy, but your team — not the customers, not the product — is the most important part of your business. Each of these tricks, like all good long-term motivation practices have these things in common:

  • They only take a few minutes’ commitment a week
  • Involve the whole team
  • Treat everyone as equal
  • Have open lines of communication
  • Build trust

What are your HR hacks for the bootstrapped startup?

The original article was published in e27.

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