Jen Paxton is the VP of People and Talent at Privy. Jen is a leader in the PeopleOps space and has partnered with Drafted to release a 5-part series for PeopleOps leaders that are just starting out or at the frontlines of a hypergrowth startup.
At first when you join a startup you feel like superwoman, you are doing it all - from ordering the snacks, to planning events, to recruiting and retaining talent on the team. Depending on how quickly you are growing the company you will eventually realize that this “I can do it all” mentality is not going to scale. That’s when you have to think about who you need on your team to accomplish everything you want to get done.
I will start off by saying that every startup is different and is going to have their own unique needs when it comes to People Operations. It is also worth noting that you have a unique set of skills so you should be on the lookout for someone that compliments those skills. When I have typically gone into a startup, we have a plan to grow the team significantly in the first year - likely to double the team in size. In addition, the two smaller startups I have joined needed to move offices to support their growing teams while meeting their aggressive hiring goals. So given my background in recruiting and the current needs to support the team in my last few roles the very first hire on my team has been an Office Manager who is focused on employee experience.
As I said every situation and company are different so where to start in your hiring will depend greatly on your specific goals and also your skills. Take a step back to think about your growth goals in both the short term and long term. How quickly do you need to scale? What other challenges are you going to face while growing a company? Running through different scenarios will prepare you to make a case for the needs of your growing team.
I have been pretty fortunate in my conversations with CEOs and Founders when it comes to hiring the first person onto my team. I lay out a case for them that talks about everything that I want to accomplish and then I break that down into:
Option 1 - The things that I can get accomplished if it’s just me
Option 2 -The things in Option 1 and the other things that we can get done if I have X person on my team.
Highlighting the different options gives them a choice and you can always tie it back to any previous conversations you have had with them around what they want to accomplish as a business in that year. Also seeing it in this light makes the argument for a new member of the team pretty persuasive.
As a PeopleOps leader, this is also a good exercise for you to do with yourself as you are thinking about how to further expand out your team.
After you have hired your first team member and you both are up and cranking, how do you determine what the next best hire is going to be (and when that will need to be)? This may be a good time to do a skills gap evaluation and to think about specializations within your team. This will help you to determine what the ratio should look like between Recruiting, HR, and Operations. When I think about the ratio, first I go back to the goals of my team, if our current team is cranking and we are shifting to focus more on hiring and the goal is to hire 10+ people, then we will need to add a recruiter next. Typically at a smaller company, I say that if you are hiring 10 or more people in a year (especially if you are hiring engineers) you should hire a dedicated recruiter. Often at smaller organizations, you will need to do more sourcing which takes more time and effort than if you were filling 20 roles at a bigger more established organization.
Finding a balance between the number of employees and HR is tricky. I like to use the 100 to 1 ratio. Typically I would hire more of a generalist as a third or fourth hire onto the team, this way we can start to build out programs and functions to support the different areas like Performance Management, Compensation, L&D (Learning & Development), Compliance and Employee Relations (HRBP). After you have some frameworks for these functions you can start to build a strategy and goals.
In smaller companies, particularly start ups, hiring members of your PeopleOps team is incredibly important. It's easy to fall into the "I can do it all" mindset mentioned in the first paragraph but the truth is even the best of us aren't superheros. Take the care to do your due diligence and assess the needs of your company and yourself - we all have skill gaps so it's up to you to surround yourself with capable people to divide and conquer responsibilities.
This blog post is the fourth part of a five-part series. In series four of How to be a PeopleOps Leader at a Growth Startup, Jen Paxton will share How to scale your PeopleOps and Talent teams. In case you missed it, check out part one - Setting Up for Success, part two - How to Win Executive Trust, or part three - How to Build a Vision for Employer Brand and Culture at Your Company