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As your small business grows to being a company of one thousand, your HR team faces new challenges. Leaders in the people ops space, Jessica Yuen (CPO at Couchbase), Aisha Stephenson (VP People at Quizlet), Desiree Therianos (Head of People Ops + Talent at Ellation) addressed, “How your HR Technology needs change; scaling from 10 - 1,000 Employees” in a panel moderated by Sapling’s CEO, Bart Macdonald. We compiled the discussion’s key takeaways and our panelists’ insights on the best practices and challenges they experienced during the growth.

BM: How does the role of people operations evolve from 10 to 1,000 people?

DT: I joined as the first non-engineer to a relatively young team. I assumed the role of director of operations because we quickly noticed that we were having “people” challenges and had to pay closer attention to management and career development. When in 2018 our head count tripled, those key initiatives become priorities overnight. People operations evolved from being an administrative function to being strategy driven and our decisions now had to backed by crucial data.

AS: People ops as a team has changed, thank god. We’re now asked for strategic perspective to propel business goals. When your company is scaling in growth, the hardest part is to move from tactical to strategic. When I joined tech space it was all about tactically finding the best talent. But, HR is changing to being at its core a binary team structures: HR operations and strategy. Thinking about that is really exciting for our space!

JY: In the beginning, having started at a company when it was five people it was very tactical operations, “we need to go hire 2 engineers, get milk, etc.” but as you start to scale you begin to feel the growing pains and know you need to add more people and add more tools. Compared to where I am now, my focus is strategy and is much more relationship oriented. I now ask myself, “How do I build up the trust and credibility of HR to our execs and leadership team?”

BM: How does your HR technology need to evolve from 10 to 1,000 people?

DT: When you’re at a company with 1k +, you have softwares to calculate your data. But when your team isn’t there yet, you often have to get creative to get to a solution. Before, when we reported to our board and execs, we would use spreadsheets and it was long and it was painful.

Then with our partnership with Sapling, infrastructure systems and presenting demographic data was at the click of a button for execs and our board for them to call on whenever they want. I am empowering our team, so we make better decisions as a whole. But, your presented data is only as good as the integrity of your data. Before adding a ton of tools and integrate systems make sure the data has integrity. People will quickly notice if data is inaccurate.

AS: When you're in the early stages you're putting all the employee personal information into a convoluted spreadsheet. Then your employees want self service and be able to access their benefits, goals, and feedback. It’s maddening with all the hats you have to wear. Luckily, HR at tech companies are forward thinking in terms of integrate with other systems. I wanted to only try out tools that talked to our applicant tracking system. Make sure early on that you're triple checking data and work. Clean data and leverage technology is huge.

BM: What is the biggest challenge you face as a People Operations leader?

JY: Strategic skills and relationship management. The HR function before didn’t have a seat at a table. But now in the HR space, you need to understand your business and its goals. What does strategy at your company mean? I actually looked up the word. Strategy comes from a Latin word that means going into battle and anticipating what will happen. If things happen one way or the other, how will the team react? With a strategy, rather than being reactive you are proactive.

AS: In the beginning, I wasn’t thinking about the company’s HR strategy beyond just attracting talent. Talent acquisition was alway the HR move, but going forward it’s morphing into, “What in you current workforce do you have?” and “Can we promote someone internally vs. hiring someone?” which I think sends the right message. I also certainly didn’t get into HR for my analytical skills, but as I've come through my career it’s evolved and those skills have developed. I’m always challenged thinking, “How can people ops become more strategic because of technology?”

DT: HR is usually brought in to do clean-up work. But we should use HR to think, “What can we give back to the next employee?” 70% millennials life cycle 18 months, millenials want more from a company and you have to think proactively and all too often we’re reacting-- so it doesn't create the right experience. We have such a huge responsibility because we have an employee’s careers in our hands. We craft each aspect from finding candidates, to onboarding, to managing performance reviews, to employee growth at the company. My challenge is handling it all with integrity and forging an alliance between the employee to the company.

My team and I intentionally visit other teams at our business partners and we observe their culture and what they're doing. It’s so powerful to be able to talk to people with like minded challenges. What’s unique with HR is we’re really open to sharing our challenges with one another to help us evolve in the field.

BM: Who are some leaders (or companies) you look up to and why?

AS: Lever. I looked at an opportunity there and met their team and was so impressed with how they talked about the employee value proposition. Also, the things that are coming out of Pinterest are amazing. The Startup HR community is great resource as well because you can talk to HR peers and mitigate any kinks you might have done without running it by your peers.

JY: The Gusto founding team. I was really fortunate to fall into a role and to learn from people who really care about people operations. Gusto discussed a lot what they talked about with customers should be reflected at the Gusto office. They wanted the experience to be that anyone who walks in the Gusto doors has a delightful experience. I also have a lot of respect for Laszlo Bock. I think he shifted what we think of HR. He focused on hiring people from different backgrounds and trying to hone creativity.

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