Lean People for Startups
(and why you need it!)

Agile HR is having a moment. And that’s a good thing for startups.

How so?  Agile HR is more akin to the lean startup approach so a lean people mode is more aligned with both the philosophies and practicalities of most startups.  Simply put, it’s more compelling and more doable, so it’s more likely to actually get done.

Agile HR is a lean approach to the People function: it’s all about building the minimal processes and programs needed for your company and adopting an experimental, iterative approach to People processes and programs.

‘Wait a minute,’ we can hear some startup leaders protest at this point, ‘We don’t have any HR or People function at our company, we don’t really need it and we’re too busy [insert your reason here: a) building a product, b) raising our next round, c) closing key sales or d) all of the above.]’ Um, yeah, our point exactly.  Assuming that you have a team, rather than being a solo show, then you have a group of people who are (hopefully) galvanized around reaching your moonshot.  Hitting your goals and growing your company is, yes, all about your people.  Turns out, they’re the folks who will make it happen (or not, as it were).  Even though most companies won’t hire a dedicated People/HR leader until they hit 50 employees plus, you still need the function per se since you still have to hire, inspire and optimize performance for your people and your team.  So, it’s likely part of your job jar as a founder, or shared with your leadership team, but, believe us, it’s there and it’s real.

What does Agile HR look like in action?  Well, not to sound like a tax lawyer, but, it depends.  At a minimum, you need to articulate your moonshot and the plan to get there so you can attract, motivate and retain the unicorn level talent that you’ll need to make progress toward this.  And you need to think about how you describe your culture (who you are as a company and who you aspire to be) and how you see the ‘operating system’ of behavior happening at your organization (how you do things around here).  Then you can figure out how to create the key agile people practices, programs and processes that you need for your company’s age and stage, considering elements like:

  • Recruiting. How you attract, select/assess and hire the people you need and want for your startup team.  (Hint: posting and praying isn’t going to cut it!)
  • Orientation. How you undertake employee onboarding so new people are connected and adding value as soon as possible.  (In the rocket pace of startups, sink or swim is a typical m.o. for employee orientation, though a more thoughtful approach usually sets people – and your company – up for more success).
  • Managing Work & Performance. Leading, choosing priorities, inspiring individuals and the team overall, managing work and realizing performance.  This is a big one and “getting shit done” and done well is the difference between a dream and reality. Take the time to think this through, articulate it, align everyone and bring it to action.
  • Communication.  Seems obvious enough. You have to communicate.  Communication will happen but will it happen the way you want it to happen, in a way that helps – not hinders – your moonshot and your culture?  Setting out how and when you communicate (exec meetings? all hands? radically transparent/honest?), how you deal with disagreements and even the words you use (and don’t use) matters.  Make the most of it!
  • Employee experience. This is about aligning your employee experience to your moonshot, your culture and your business (not about perks and employee ‘happiness’).  It’s about designing with empathy and putting yourself in the employee’s perspective all along the employee lifecycle (candidate, new hire, employee, seasoned employee, new leader, how the employee receives feedback on performance, employee events, workspace etc.).

Agile HR is about taking a lean approach to developing and managing the People function, based on your company’s context (nature of your business, stage, your goals).  It’s about being thoughtful about what you need (and what you don’t), eschewing a generic approach (most ‘best practices’ in HR were not built for startups, and, sadly, the hard truth is they may not be evidenced-based) and instead innovating your people programs, practices and processes with the same agile, test-and-iterate mindset that startups take to product development.  Try it – your people – and your company’s growth trajectory – will thank you!

Want to learn more?  Check out our People programs online and contact us to learn more.

This post originally appeared on Alberta Enterprise Corporation’s Start Alberta portal.