The Two Sides of Growth
As an HR person who has worked at a handful of startups, you get used to building structure and process where there once was nothing, codifying culture and values that used to be unspoken, and generally swimming upstream. For a company to grow, that means it has to change, and change can be really scary. The people whose job it is to usher in those changes can face a lot of resistance and gain a bad reputation. In order to avoid that, it’s important that HR people and other business leaders focus on both sides of growth - the tactical and the emotional.
The tactical side of growth includes focusing on all of the things that need to get done. These are the initiatives that your CEO, CFO, COO, or board members might ask for, or you might need to create in order to achieve larger organizational goals. For example, they might include:
- Developing a hiring plan
- Developing an organizational structure
- Defining roles
- Creating career paths
- Implementing KPI’s
- Implementing a performance management process
- Creating a learning and development program
As a company grows, these are things that you absolutely need in order to ensure that the company is properly supporting its employees, and that people have clarity in their roles and understand what they need to do to be successful. These are also the things that your stakeholders are asking for, and so it is often how an HR person’s success is measured. However, focusing solely on the tactical side of growth is only the yin...
The yang to the tactical side of growth is the emotional side. This is how people experience the tactical processes and practices that you roll out. As I mentioned before, change can be really scary, especially when people were happy with the way things used to be. You have to acknowledge the emotional responses that people will inevitably have to the changes that your company is experiencing. Without taking people’s feelings into account, a perfectly good initiative can seem tone-deaf and fall flat on its face. Some of the emotional responses that I’ve found to crop up in startups in the midst of changes are:
- Feelings of instability
- Lack of clarity
- Dissatisfaction with a person’s manager or strong loyalty to a person’s manager
- Lack of faith or blind faith in leadership
- Decrease in connectivity to the leadership
- Ambiguity with changing expectations
- Feeling stifled by an increase in process
- Nostalgia for the “old days”
These emotional responses are real. They’re important. And they can completely undermine HR initiatives if they are ignored. As an HR person you may only have one boss, but every employee is a stakeholder in an HR person’s work.
MANAGING BOTH SIDES OF GROWTH
Anyone who has been in a relationship knows that it’s better not to spring something on your partner without considering their feelings and how they will react. It’s exactly the the same as when you’re ushering change into an organization - it is much more difficult to address people’s emotional reactions in hindsight rather than proactively considering how growth and scaling will affect your employee-base. It’s also important to consider all of the different ways in which growth will affect your employees. Consider asking yourself or your team members questions about how the emotional side will play out as a result of the tactical:
- Will the new initiative affect one group differently than it will affect others? (i.e. more tenured employees, people of color, parents, etc.)
- Are your managers trained properly to handle the changes?
- How do we communicate sensitive changes without ruining people’s sense of stability or balance?
- Will implementing new processes squash people’s sense of autonomy and innovation?
As someone who has come in to a few companies after a crazy amount of growth, where people have had many negative emotional responses to the way the company has grown and the damage is essentially done, I’ve seen how difficult it is to regain employees’ trust and continue to grow. I strongly believe that it is never too early to hire someone for whom balancing the emotional and the tactical sides of growth is their main concern!
Written by Emma Leeds, M.S. HR, Senior HR Director at Canvs TV.