5 Things to Help Build an Effective HR Department from Scratch

Sep 25, 2019

Dan SprockBy Dan Sprock, Director of People & Culture at Fairygodboss

Startups face a myriad of challenges—and implementing an effective and purposeful HR department is without question one of the hardest.

Although developing a department from scratch provides flexibility and creativity, it can also be a hugely intimidating endeavor. There are, of course, universal measures that nearly any company should know to mold its initial framework around—a thorough employee handbook, knowing your company’s mission, and other basics. But how does your HR department look beyond the bare essentials? Below are five tips to help guide you during this critical time.

1. Build With Culture, Not Process

A company culture will be created, whether you intentionally set out to do so or not. It is the atmosphere that your workforce continuously exists in, and therefore it will determine how your employees regularly feel, produce, and act. It is imperative that you first build around your mission and personality rather than your operations, as those will undoubtedly change over time due to scaling and growth. Culture must be driven by leadership, and company leaders should start with a shared, cultural vision before a systematic one when looking to create an HR department.

2. Started From The Top, Now We’re Here

The blueprint for your HR team should begin with a strategic approach from leadership. Targeting mission-aligned HR professionals who have a seasoned background in startup environments is paramount during the recruitment process. Remember, your HR department is going to be heavily involved in communication across all facets of your company. It is an essential position that should not be overlooked by the most senior personnel, but rather carefully considered to ensure that the right candidate is chosen.

3. Be About Your Values

“Company Values” has become an increasingly hot term in the startup world, but what exactly should those values include? They should be a short, memorable collection of obtainable and enduring behaviors that all employees must exhibit and possess. Actionability of these behaviors is key—they shouldn’t merely be a catchy grouping of words that exist on paper but not in practice. Your HR team must be able to blend company values in the form of policies, systems, team building, and expectations. They must also be able to, without fail, point out to leadership when a proposed change or implementation does not align with these values.

4. Your HR Leader Is Not Your Only HR Leader

Empowering all leaders across your teams is essential, and a critical component of that empowerment comes from ensuring that all leaders understand and contribute to HR’s needs. The direction of the HR team should not be insulated only to designated HR people, but shared and built across the entire company. Establishing open lines of communication amongst multiple leaders within your HR team will help develop a more cooperative culture. It should come as no surprise that, over time, your company may very well need to adapt its HR approaches, and those adaptations need to be a collaborative effort.

5. Simplicity Over Complexity

A wide spectrum of innovative ideas, knowledge of robust HRIS and ATS software, and progressive incentives for employees is a wonderful skill set for any HR professional to possess. With that said, when things are just getting started—don’t overdo it! The design of your processes and communication ideally reflect your company’s current stage of growth. During your early stages, your internal HR practices should be simple and focused. You don’t want too many tools in your toolbox, after all—just the right ones!


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