5 Things HR People Can Learn From Entrepreneurs

For this post I’d like to reflect on my years in senior talent & learning roles at Goodyear and Swarovski versus the past three years during which I’ve been a full-time entrepreneur, running a start-up, Talmundo, that has developed an app for onboarding new hires.

There are so many things I would have done differently. Getting a business off the ground, scaling it and bringing it to profit has been nothing less than a brutal confrontation with the way I work, the way I make decisions, with how long it tends to take to get things done. If, with the help of my team, we hadn’t gotten it right at least some of the time, we’d have gone out of business a while ago.

And I love that confrontation, by the way. It’s more or less the main reason I made the switch. I was looking for a totally open and honest confrontation with myself. Goodbye consistent praise and stable corporate career. I craved the challenge — can I really make a difference when it is down to just me?

Like I said, we got some things right, and some not at all. But even the mistakes have taught me a couple of lessons that I would use if I ever went back to the corporate life.

Hack it until you crack it

From problem identified to solution implemented in a typical HR corporate role? 1–2 years. Average. I remember one of my jobs where I was told “Stijn, be patient if you want to update our career site. There’s so many stakeholders, you need Recruitment, IT, Communications…”

Facebook recently celebrated ‘Hackathon’ number 100. The concept: get the right people around the table. I’m talking skills as well as decision makers. Hack the problem, get into solution mode and actually build the damn thing even if it’s not even close to perfect. Could have done that with the career site at the time. I didn’t.

It was still not finished when I left that job, by the way.

Sprint

I’m not saying everything can be accomplished in 2–3 days.

But make sure you schedule and keep track of short-term goals. This is the way IT developers work (our CTO taught me), but there’s no reason it can’t be applied to other roles. It works on any project or project-based role. Break big projects down into their smaller pieces called “sprints” (usually about 2 weeks), and then add in other things that make sense to work on at the same time until you reach your team’s maximum workload (within reason) for that time. After 2 weeks, evaluate the result of the sprint and build a new one. Goodbye marathons, hello 200m!

Try. Fail. Learn. Repeat.

Even when you’re hacking and sprinting at your best, you can fail miserably. Maybe you’re just working on the wrong stuff. Or the time is not right. Or you did not understand the need very well. Or, or…

As an entrepreneur, I’m relying on my (and my team’s) ideas and their execution to feed my family as well at theirs. Giving up is not an option.

So when you fail, you try again… and again, and again.

In a corporate job, most failure is not as ‘in your face’. You can always blame, for example, the attitude or laziness of the company’s employees when they don’t sign-up for that great course you designed.

I can’t blame anyone else. If my clients’ new hires don’t use the Talmundo onboarding app or don’t like it, I’m screwed. I have to find ways to improve it, understand their needs even better… make sure it actually does what it’s supposed to do.

I have to. No excuses.

In my HR roles I had tools or projects that failed…and after failure that’s where I often left them. You move on to do something else.

As an entrepreneur you better get your act together again quickly, improve your product or start all over again with full determination to get it right the second time. There probably won’t be a third chance.

Be decisive

Less is more. It may sound so 1990’s, but is still very valid. Fewer products are giving me more profit. Focus on those projects that are high impact. But don’t do too many of them… it will diminish their impact. You will end up dividing your resources over too many things.

In our first years Talmundo moved from scrambling to build several HR apps at once, to making to just one… but an awesome one that people really wanted.

When you don’t have a big “corporate” budget you can’t afford to do it all. And even if you do, focus creates clarity for everyone involved, and peace of mind for yourself.

Enjoy!

Life is not about working 9 to 5. It’s also not about 9 to 9. It’s about full focus and determination when needed. But it’s also about getting on your bike at 2pm because you just closed two big deals and there’s no fires to put out.

HR corporate or start-up, there’s always plenty to do. You could do 24 hours every day… and run yourself into the ground trying. Focus on high impact work. I try to get the ‘boring’ stuff done and out of the way early in the day.

Not having a boss or being the boss of 500 colleagues has allowed me to break my own bad work habits and to better mix work, leisure (in my case, doing sports) and spending time with my wife and two boys.

Would I ever go back to spending the typical 10 hours in an office again? No way!