How to build your People team from scratch

Kristian Bright
Nov 20, 2019 · 4 min read
Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

If you’re a startup founder with a team of between 10 and 50 people chances are you will be looking to hire the first member of your People team. Like most ‘first’ hires, it’s usually daunting as you try to figure out what exactly you need both today and in the future. Throw into the mix the idea that measuring success for HR and Recruiting appears inconsistent at best, it’s difficult to prioritise what you are looking for. Should I hire a People Lead or a Recruiter or someone who can do a bit of both?

The reality is that you’re not alone in having this predicament. This post is the first of a three-part series aimed at providing some structure to the questions to ask and decisions to make. We’ll cover:

  • How to define the role and requirements
  • Attracting and interviewing the right candidate
  • The offer and onboarding

Where do I begin?

‘We work in a startup where things move incredibly fast, we just need someone in’

That may be true but rushing straight in increases the chances of making the wrong hire, which (having experienced first hand) will hurt a lot more than the time you spend upfront figuring out your hiring criteria.

Start by defining what problems you need this person to be accountable for:

  • Are you struggling to attract and hire great talent?
  • Is it taking too long to hire people which is effecting your ability to deliver on projects and goals?
  • Are people’s roles unclear?
  • Are you concerned about your team’s ability to perform?
  • Do you have a number of new managers?
  • Are you struggling to retain and develop people?

Next, think about the future — what are the next steps for the company in 6–12 months time?

  • How much bigger do you think the team will be?
  • What would you like the work environment to be like?
  • Where do you see the biggest risks to our business?

The answers to these questions will help to determine what role you need to hire now and how you see the People team growing. Most of the answers to the first set of questions will probably be ‘yes’ but to different degrees. Aim to prioritise where the biggest need is and what that challenge looks like.

‘We’ll hire someone and they’ll figure out where the challenges are’.

Whilst smart and capable people will figure out challenges, this is a cop-out. Set the person up for success by proactively communicating and managing their (and your) expectations. Your work environment, how you hire and develop people is a collective responsibility and one which all founders and employees should care about. Don’t pin all your hopes on this first hire solving all of these problems.

Decide on the role and focus on the remit (I know, I know people in startups ‘wear many hats’). If you need to grow and make hires, hire a Head of Talent or an experienced Recruiter first. If retention and development are more pressing concerns then make the first hire a People Lead (often titled Head of People). Be wary about hiring some with mid-level experience and then expecting them to nail everything or know how to build a team around them. They’ll need support and guidance to develop.

Now you’ve figured out where the challenges are and what they look like, translate that into a job description. You can use a structure like this:

The Company

Give a brief introduction to your company and what you are building.

  • What is your vision and mission? What problem are you trying to solve?
  • Why does that matter?
  • What type of company are you looking to build?

The Opportunity

Think about the importance of this role in your company and what impact they can start to make as your company grows.

  • What is the current state?
  • Where are the challenges and how are they prioritised?
  • Why is this role important?

Remit and Experience

The temptation here is to have a long list of things that you want someone to tackle. You’ve made a note of the issues and you’re ready to hand them over to someone else to figure out.

There’s only so much one person can do. Having a long list of requirements inevitably leads to unrealistic expectations and disappointment when you start to interview people.

Focus in on the absolutely key points.

  • What would you like them to deliver in the first 6 months and what would you like them to start thinking about longer-term?

Split your requirements into essential and desirable skills:

  • What technical/domain knowledge do you need to see? e.g sourcing technical talent, building levelling & progression, training new manager, people policies, org design etc.
  • What behaviours link to your values? An ability to understand problems with incomplete data and develop solutions, present ideas in a clear and understandable way, empathy, pragmatic etc.

The Salary

What are you willing to offer? Head of Talent or People roles can vary from £40,000-£150,000+ so set the right expectation in terms of level.

In Conclusion

Hiring is difficult and making your first hire to your people team is no different. Investing upfront is hugely valuable and will save you time when you start speaking to people about the role.

Next up we’ll tackle how you identify the right candidate….

People Collective

People are the heart of every growing business and we’re there to enable your people to reach their full potential by putting in the right people strategy to help them thrive.

Kristian Bright

Written by

👨‍💼Talent & People Partner, People Collective. Here to share (hopefully) useful advice on work and life.

People Collective

People are the heart of every growing business and we’re there to enable your people to reach their full potential by putting in the right people strategy to help them thrive.

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