Anyone who’s ever worked in both large and small companies knows how different they are. In a sub-100 person company, you often know everyone’s name, can fit everyone into a reasonably-sized space for team building, and can usually collect feedback one-on-one. 

As companies scale, things become more complex. Colleagues may not be in the same building—or even the same time zone. Communication becomes more complicated, and additional levels of management separate leaders from individual contributors. Things that worked when you were a small company are no longer sufficient to support a larger team.

HR must adapt to fit the needs of the organization at each stage of growth.

Scaling your team from 1 to 100 employees

When your company is small, you can get scrappy and still accomplish many of your goals. The HR function often consists of a single person who is very tactical, focusing on things like processing new employee paperwork, handling payroll, and compliance.

Spreadsheets are often used for many things: from tracking job candidates, to organizing onboarding and offboarding, and perhaps tracking your key performance indicators. Using spreadsheets isn’t perfect—but it gets the job done.

HR processes are works-in-progress and may be led by managers. For example, employee onboarding may vary widely by department—and be nonexistent in some teams. At this point, you’re still learning what works for your organization, and what doesn’t. 

But there are two things you absolutely shouldn’t overlook:

  1. Company culture: If you allow your culture to develop organically, you may not like what you see—and it could be very difficult to change at a later point. Be intentional about your company culture from the start. Define your company’s core values, and utilize behavioral interviewing techniques so you can hire the right people. Keep your values top of mind by discussing them during onboarding, recognizing employees that demonstrate them, and tying them in to performance reviews. 
  2. Diversity, equity, and inclusion: It’s also crucial that you focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion from your company’s inception, so that you may weave it into your company culture. It’s common practice to rely heavily on employee referrals as companies begin to scale. The problem is, referrals have a tendency to breed homogeneity, which can make it difficult to hire from underrepresented groups. Prioritize building a diverse workforce before you realize you don’t have one. This may include prompting employees with questions like, “Who is the best female engineer you know?” or “Who is the best Black salesperson you’ve worked with?” 

Scaling your team from 101-1000 employees

As you pass the 100-employee mark, your company may begin growing faster, and you may have more than one office. Before you get to this point, you should begin to think about:

  • HR Processes: Processes become more important as you scale past 100 employees, so that each may become repeatable and offer a similar employee experience across your team. Build some structure around how you hire, onboard, evaluate, offboard, and conduct other HR processes. Streamline and automate what you can to free up your time for more strategic initiatives. 
  • Tools: Spreadsheets or all-in-one HR technology might cut it when you’re small, but best-of-breed solutions can better enable growth. For instance, the applicant tracking system in your all-in-one platform may provide a terrible candidate experience, or may not align well with your recruitment process. Building out a best-of-breed HR tech stack will allow you to find tools in each category that best fit your needs. Start with an applicant tracking system and People Ops Platform, then build out integrations with payroll and benefits, background screening, and other platforms that meet your unique needs. 
  • HR Headcount: As headcount grows company-wide, so too should your HR headcount—at least 1 person on your team for every 100 employees. While an HR generalist may have been able to handle recruiting, compensation, benefits, compliance, and other People Ops responsibilities while you were small, this additional headcount will likely be needed to enable growth. Hire based on your priorities and skill gaps.
  • Data: This is also a good time to get very comfortable with your People data, if you haven’t already. Use the data you’ve gathered from your first 100 employees to scale. For instance, what are your best recruitment channels, in terms of cost, time to hire, and quality of hire, and how does that break down by department or role? If you need to hire a new salesperson quickly, it helps if you already know which channel will be your best bet. What are the most common reasons for employee turnover? Use that data to understand where you should invest in People programs. Your data is key to becoming a strategic advisor to company leadership.

Scaling your team past 1000 employees

Scaling past 1000 employees is a tremendous accomplishment, which requires more sophistication from HR leaders. 

HR processes should be optimized and documented. This includes everything from your company handbook, to your compensation strategy, to your human resources planning.

Your HR tech stack should be running like a well-oiled machine, with each component doing it’s job—but you may need to replace some components as your needs change. For example, you may need to switch to a different payroll provider to accommodate international growth. 

You will likely have specialists—or teams of specialists—for each area, including recruiting, diversity and inclusion, compensation, compliance, payroll, and people analytics. 

This level of sophistication will allow you to become more strategic—but only if your HR ecosystem works in unison. For example, let’s say your recruitment team isn’t able to close local candidates with the skills they need to fill a role. Your People Analytics team can identify the schools that your top performing employees have come from, and your compensation team can tell you which areas should have candidates within your budget. You can then bring this data to your company leaders to suggest where they might consider opening a new office—or build your case for hiring remote employees.

Final thoughts on scaling a team

Scaling a team isn’t easy. In fact, 99.9 percent of businesses in the United States are categorized as small businesses and most of those will never reach 1000 employees. There’s no playbook to scale a team, and the journey will be unique for each company that surpasses the 1000-employee mark. 

But this much is clear: HR should look very different in a 100-person company than in a 1000-person company. Supporting a large volume of employees requires strategy, innovation, and adaptation throughout a company’s growth journey.

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