Congrats. You’ve just raised your Series B and you’re already busy planning out how to achieve the growth targets that will vault you to Series C and beyond. A growth-oriented sales and marketing strategy is critical, along with a focused product strategy keeping you on course to achieving your product market fit. But, to be a truly Badass CEO, don’t let your people operations strategy fall through the cracks. In fact, make it the first thing you get right.
Because if you do, it’ll increase your chances of hitting those growth targets. A smart, proactive people operations strategy is like adding a much-needed booster to your rocket. It will allow you to achieve greater acceleration, sustain higher speeds, and carry heavier workloads towards your destination.
Leading up to your Series B, your people strategy was focused on getting the right people on the bus and you did a great job of bringing on a small team of individuals who fit well together and got things done. Now, as you ramp up your hiring to supercharge your product development and sales and marketing capabilities, you will inevitably start to feel some growing pains. Left unchecked these pains will lead to reduced productivity, low employee morale and motivation, people jumping off your bus, and ultimately leave you unable to reach your growth targets.
So how do you build a people operations strategy that will get and keep the right people on your bus? Here are the three pillars of a proactive people operations strategy as you grow your company from Series B and beyond.
1. Aligning Individual Performance with Company Performance
As you rapidly grow your team, not everyone will have the same level of connection, understanding, and alignment with company’s goals, values, and vision. Alignment – getting everybody pulling in the same direction – is critical to company success, as well as individual success and engagement. Studies have shown how committing to a goal, especially challenging and specific ones, can help improve employee performance and engagement.
What are some early warning signals of misalignment?
- Lack of empowerment to make decisions, especially amongst newer employees. When there is a lack of understanding of the company’s direction, goals and vision and how it translates into their individual goals, employees will find it difficult to make decisions. Instead, they will wait to receive instructions and repeated confirmation from others, ultimately slowing down your growth.
- Difficulty in recognizing people. Accomplishments and contributions regularly go unrecognized because no one knows what actions and results should be recognized.
- Too many meetings. Meetings are necessary to exchange ideas and review progress; however, a lack of clarity can result in a meeting, after a meeting, after another meeting as employees bring in more and more colleagues, managers and bosses to check and double check decisions.
So what can you do to create alignment between individual and company performance in a fast-growing team?
- Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) is a framework to help set organization and team “objectives” in a digestible, measurable way that can help employees see how they are contributing to the bigger picture. Companies big and small use it, from Google to PeerStreet, to create greater company-team-individual alignment. Learn more about OKRs from re:Work and how to make it work for you.
- 1-On-1s is a great way to hold informal, but structured conversations between manager and employee. For 30 minutes every other week you can listen and learn about goal progress, what’s going well, and not so well. Use this feedback to continuously assess whether there is lack of clarity in the alignment of individual goals to company goals and tweak as needed.
2. Creating a Career “Calisthenics” Pathway
A career path supporting personal growth is crucial to retaining your star performers and attracting younger talent. A study by Randstad found that GenY workers are the least likely to be interested in pay increases and more interested in learning new skills. They are also more likely to value career path than any other generation. But for a smaller Series B company, how can you offer an attractive career path when your company has a relatively flat structure and few management positions?
The solution is to think about career pathways less like a “ladder” (one-way, up) and more like “calisthenics” where you’re moving up, down, and sideways. Beverly Kaye, author of Up is Not the Only Way: Rethinking Career Mobility and founder of Talent Dimensions, a LA-based career consulting firm, suggests asking these questions as you design your career “calisthenics” pathway:
- Is there someone higher up with whom you can connect employees to work on a stretch assignment or use as a mentor?
- Are there opportunities for them to learn new skills from their peer group?
- Are there opportunities for them to mentor those who are newer to the organization?
Creating a successful “career calisthenics program” requires close collaboration between employer and employee and it should be considered from both the perspectives of the organization and the employee.
- Organization: What skills and knowledge do we require to achieve our business goals?
- Employee: What are the skills and knowledge I think are critical to my current and future career plans?
The outcome: A learning organization with a growth-mindset, where employees are engaged in a career pathway defined by what they want, as well as what the organization needs.
3. Agile People Processes Powered by Your Employees’ Feedback
If it takes a year to figure out that you’re developing a product that no one needs – you would already be out of business. So you’re constantly talking to your customers and using data to fine-tune your product development strategy. The same approach needs to be taken with your people operations. You need to be constantly listening to your employees’ feedback to figure out how to best grow a workplace culture where they love to come to work every day. Otherwise, your may be wasting money on initiatives that your employees’ don’t want. Unengaged talent will quickly leave if they feel their voices are not heard and their needs not met.
There are three key components of an Agile People Operations Loop:
- Listen – Create a safe environment for all members of your team to bring up what’s working and what’s not working. This may mean an open door policy or an anonymous survey for them to submit their suggestions.
- Learn – Learning from the feedback means that you’re digger deeper to figure out: Is this a one-time issue or a more prevalent problem? What drivers of employee engagement (ie. role clarity, communication, etc.) are your strengths, and which are the areas you need to improve on? Are recent initiatives or events (new leadership hire, recent reorganization, etc.) impacting your employees’ happiness? Ask meaningful questions that quantitatively and qualitatively measure employee engagement.
- Action – After deciding on an area(s) of focus, generate ideas for action. Then take an experimental approach to driving actions. If you can break projects down into smaller bite-size pieces, test to see what works, and then decide whether to adopt as is, or adapt further for greater success.
The important part about these three steps is that they form a continuous loop that will work with you to adapt winning people processes as you grow your company.
- The biggest challenge for you NOW is that as you’re growing quickly what has worked previously to keep your employees engaged may not work as well as you grow in the next three to six months. Make your people operations strategy the first thing you get right because it is critical to keeping the right people on your bus and engaged in what they’re doing.
- 3 pillars of a successful Series B People Operations Strategy:
- Aligning individual performance with company performance
- Creating a career “calisthenics” pathway
- Powering agile people processes with your employees’ feedback