Advice for a Startup HR Head
Congratulations! You are the head of HR for an exciting startup. And you may already have a sense of what you should be doing. If so, you’re one step ahead. But here are some ideas and thoughts you may not have considered, some ways to think differently as you approach your job. Here goes.
If you are going to have a mission, use it. We don’t have time to waste on worthless missions. At Eightfold AI, our mission is the “right career for everyone in the world.” It’s very, very big, and also very useful. It helps us as we come across a new prospective client. We can consider if saying “yes” would further our mission or not. It helps us recruit our own employees; we want people to “find the right career at Eightfold.” It focuses us globally and not regionally. We live it and breathe it or we would just discard it.
Don’t wait to address diversity. Referrals can be a great source of hire, at a lower cost, with higher retention rates. However, it is possible (though not always) that when your employees refer their friends to jobs, you end up building a homogeneous workforce. You later realize you have a problem and you need to pull out of the diversity hole. You scramble like mad to hire quickly from under-represented groups, and try to make up for the past problem.
Make sure your hiring practices and your promotion practices are inclusive from the get-go.
Remember that the grass isn’t any greener than in your own workforce. Let’s assume here that you’re a great head of HR who has a great workforce and knows great people. If so, do not let yourself think that the next great hire is someone you don’t know, who needs to be poached by a headhunter paid a big fee.
Instead, poach your own people. It is so strange that companies do not recruit their employees. Their employees quit for new jobs, new challenges, and new managers who have enticed them with exciting offers. You can give your employees new jobs, new challenges, and new managers. You just need the technology that can match people with new internal roles.
Internal mobility is not just a technology issue though. You also need a culture which makes managers feel like they shouldn’t hoard talent.
If not a current employee, you probably know an ex-employee, or a past applicant who matches your open roles. Commit to matching the skills of people in your network to your open roles before you go out and try to convince someone who has never expressed interest to work for you.
Don’t call the temp company just yet:
So many times companies use Upwork, Adecoo, or Fiverr to handle a short-term project. They assume there’s no one in their own company who can do the work.
Often, the company has the needed skills and knowledge in its own workforce or network, but doesn’t know it. Make sure you have a solid inventory of the skills and potential of all your employees, contingent workers, and others in your network.
… and hold off before you let someone go:
Companies often lay off someone while there’s an open role that the departing employee could have been retrained for. There is now artificial intelligence that can help you match people’s skills and potential to jobs they haven’t done before, but are perfectly capable of doing.
Usually the first few days of an employee’s tenure are spent signing forms, trying to get their password to work on company software and systems, and meeting a few people in their department who they’ll work with on a daily basis.
Do it differently. Design a system where employees spend their early days meeting people whose expertise and interests match your new employees’ career goals, regardless of department or location. Help employees find an in-person or online class they’ll want to take that relates to their career goals. Have them sign up for projects that help them use and build their skills (see above, regarding temp agencies). The point is: make onboarding about their skills, their careers, their goals, and their future, and how the business can help them prepare for that future.
Pause before you ask that interview question:
But there is not a lot of data showing that many of these questions, such as asking people their favorite book, animal, or movie, correlate to a quality hire. Maybe they correlate to being well coached for an interview. Anyhow, interviews should focus on the skills a person has to do the job, and their experience using those skills.
As you move forward, dive deep. Don’t just say “we need more women in engineering.” Use analytics to hone in on the issue. Are women dropping off the career site? Are they falling off at the screening stage, the onsite-interview stage, or rejecting offers? These are just examples of the kind of deep data you’ll want to use.
Best of luck with your new job. If you think differently like described above, you’ll succeed.