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« If my CEO didn’t make time for me, I wouldn’t be here talking to you”. That’s (almost) how Kathleen Mullaney started the session, and she is a senior executive of Udacity (the first online education unicorn); you can only imagine what other employees might think. For an hour and a half, she gave her vision of Human Resources (HR) in start-ups alongside Ricardo Marvao, the co-founder of an accelerator in Lisbon. Through their answers to the participants’ questions, they answered 5 major HR-related questions each start-up founder or CEO has come across. This article will help you learn from their experiences and get ahead in the HR department.

How to hire people?

Once you have a revolutionary idea and start implementing it, it’s really hard to do it alone. That’s when the first HR “hurdle” comes along: you need to hire people. But how do you do that when you’ve never had to do it before? The key is that you need to do it keeping in mind the following question: “how much does this person understand the market and my company?”

It is really important to understand that hiring cannot be outsourced, meaning head hunters are a bad idea (they are expensive and they turn out to be a bad investment more often than not). This doesn’t mean that you have to do everything alone; a good alternative is using hirers, leading to a virtuous cycle of people recommending their friends.

Another difficult case is hiring abroad. Once again, you need to be there in person to be sure the person you meet lives up to your expectations. To help you through this process, make good use of your Venture Companies (VCs): they know the market they invest in and can provide you with market data (useful information, recommended salaries, …).

How to set the culture within your people?

The question of culture never rises when everything goes well, it only becomes an issue once you hire 10 or 20 people at once and find it threatened. To involve the new recruits as much as possible in the company, they need to take part even in the smallest things, making the culture a constant presence of their work. But most importantly, setting the culture of a company is developing a safe space.

A safe space means somewhere employees feel free to speak, be it about things that make them happy or that annoy them. Implementing an anonymous platform (like SpeakUp) is an easy option to allow the hard questions getting out in the open. But, in Kathleen’s words, “the only way to give feedback is through having a relationship with the people”.

Finally, the culture is also the set of intangible benefits you offer your employees, the core of your company. Which brings us to our third question: what do you do once you hired people and made them feel comfortable in your company?

How to keep your people?

The focus of the company shouldn’t be “when to hire” but “how to take care of the people that you already hired”. It is very hard to balance these questions once the company is starting to pick up steam because you need to pay attention to all the employees and their interests. Even though the culture appeals to them, they need to always feel like they are growing professionally and that they are taken care of. “You have a lot of data on your clients, but what about your employees?

It is very important to understand that it is not the role of a CEO to follow up on the evolution and the problems of employees, which is why the company needs to invest in employee retainment programs and HR managers. To keep an employee, you need to understand what motivates him and tailor your feedback to help him improve through personal development discussions. These discussions should take place at a defined rate to understand what went well and what didn’t on both sides.

It is then the responsibility of the key deputies working in the team to report that kind of information during their meetings with the CEO. They should be scheduled regularly to stay up to date, just like the personal development discussions, but there is no need for weekly meetings with them. This brings the question to management, what is the role of the CEO?

How to manage your people?

As is the case with company culture, the CEO sets the core values and principles of the company. As such, a CEO has 3 main roles: setting expectations, communicating clearly and actively working against their biases. The last one is perhaps the more cryptic, which is why I will tackle it first.

It is very easy to give into your unconscious biases (“men are more qualified than women” is the most common) but they can be very misleading, particularly during job interviews. Processing all the thoughts going through your mind (and working against those who do not help you) will give to every action you make a sense of intentionality, helping you make the best decisions for your business.

When it comes to expectations, one of the main issues is that they often do not match reality. The other one is that people do not know what the company expects from them.  As a CEO, the job is to define these expectations very clearly so that both the employees and the executives are happy. This can also help setting boundaries to the sense of entitlement some employees may feel with the advantages they were granted like working from home.

However, communicating your expectations is not enough, you should tell your staff how to achieve them. The key to this point is documentation: everything in the company should be documented so as not to disadvantage some employees or even some offices in different locations. When expanding in many countries, the issue of communication becomes central and should be taken as such; there needs to be proper infrastructure for video communication (even Facetime will do, the most important being communication between the teams).

How to get rid of the toxic people?

You can always hire a new employee, but you can hardly recover from the breakdown of the company culture. That is why “toxic employees” should be taken care of as quickly as possible, either through quick feedback or through firing. And, as for the hiring part, this cannot be outsourced. Therefore, it is the CEO’s job to prepare a plan for such cases by studying the financial impact along with the impact on the business and the team.

“Talent is not bought, it’s just rented”, that is why it is so important to take care of the employees working for the company. Just like the clients of your company, your employees are your clients; some will be hard to convince, some will make your business grow, but mostly, you need them and should never forget to care of them.

Last modified: 23 novembre 2017

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