Setting up for Success - How to be a PeopleOps Leader at a Growth Startup

Guest Post
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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 hyper-growth startup.

After going through the interview process, meeting the team and negotiating an offer, you are now ready to start working at your small but scaling startup as their first PeopleOps leader. But where do you start? There are so many things that you want to accomplish and build-out for the company. How do you prioritize them all? And how do you get buy-in from the senior leaders to make it all happen?  

I’ve had the opportunity to build PeopleOps programs from the ground up at three scaling startups (Logentries acquired by, Cinsio later rebranded to TrueMotion and now Privy). In each of these startups, I was their very first PeopleOps leader, brought in to recruit and scale their team as well as grow and maintain their company culture. 

I wanted to share a few things that I did in the first 30 days to set myself up for success and quickly add value to the team. 

Day One - Week One

Understanding the current process

Coming in with a background in TA/HR gave me a different lens to look through when it came to HR paperwork and onboarding. I took note of how everything was done from completing I-9s and Benefits paperwork to meeting everyone on the team. This helped me come up with ideas on how to improve our current process. The first step, automating the paperwork. 

Setting up 1-on-1 meetings with all of the key players. 

Learning as much as I can about the company, sitting in on as many meetings as I could. Shadowing sales calls, sitting in on support calls, going to coffees/lunches with ICs at the company. 

There are typically 1-2 people who drive the culture at the company, you need to identify them, get to know them well and work with them to maintain and grow the culture of the company.  You should leverage the founder or CEO to direct you to some of the people they think you should get to know first. It’s good to make a list of every person in the company and have a basic understanding of what they do. Depending on how big the team is, you can plan to sit down 1 on 1 with most of the team to establish a connection and lay the foundation for trust. 

It’s important for you to have an understanding of how each team works together, determining the dependencies they have on other teams as well as particular people. 

Come in with a few ideas, then be ready to pivot

Before I started at Privy, I put together a “Privy Needs” doc with everything that I could think of at the time that I would like to accomplish in the near and far term. 

I looked on Privy’s website for terms and things that I might want to learn about the company and came up with a list of questions for each of the stakeholders.

Play up your strengths 

Privy was the 3rd startup that I was coming into and building out processes and programs from scratch. It was pretty easy for me to come up with a list of everything that we didn’t have. The bigger challenge was starting to prioritize that list with things that I could get done now vs things that would need to do after I had established trust and buy-in. 

I started off with the things that I knew would add value quickly. Since I began my career in recruiting, building a recruiting process and hiring quickly and effectively was something I could do for Privy pretty much from day one. 

One of the first things I would need to do is get an ATS (applicant tracking system) up and running. It was my 2nd week on the job when I talked with Ben, my CEO, about purchasing an ATS. 

I know that if you are hiring at least 10 or more people in a year an ATS is worth the cost. 

I have tried to be scrappy in the past and keep resumes in a Google drive under different folders, set up Trello boards to keep track of active candidates’ status and set up email templates to use to make things go faster. It doesn’t scale. There is too much risk for human error. A candidates’ resume going to careers@ gets lost in your spam folder, or you get 50 marketing resumes in one day so it takes you a few hours to parse each resume into Gdrive, go through the resume, find the ones that you want to send to the hiring manager, then when you hear back from the manager (which you have to manually keep track of) reach out to each candidate, then add them to the Trello board - and this is all before you talk with them on the phone. 

Don’t get me started on having to house your feedback somewhere. So with this little nugget of experience and the support of my CEO the conversation to spend the $5k+ on an ATS was a pretty smooth conversation.

Give to get 

When you are a small team, it’s good to have the team get to know you on a personal and professional level. 

One way to do this is to put together some ‘get to know you’ slides. It was so informative and well-received on the team that I baked an “about me” presentation into our new hire orientation.

It’s important to remember that you’re going to have this “Did they really pick me?” kind of moment. Prepare for that. You will need a level of confidence to remind yourself that you have the skills and the knowledge to do this. Coming in prepared, understanding where to start first and making sure you have flexibility built in to pivot yourself are key in setting yourself up for success, especially if you are stepping into a leadership role for the first time at a scaling startup.

This blog post is the first part of a five part series. In series two of How to be a PeopleOps Leader at a Growth Startup, Jen Paxton will share How to win Executive Trust in your First 90 Days.

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