From Startup to Small Business: Five HR Must-Haves

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HR Market Analyst,

Congratulations, you've done it! You started with an idea, launched a company, and now your product or service is selling well. It’s time to grow. But as you know, growing a business isn't simple.

“The media plays up the overnight successes like Instagram,” says Jay Turo, co-founder and CEO of Growthink, “but for the vast majority of entrepreneurs, it is a long, slow, and gradually upward growth process.”

From an HR perspective, in particular, there’s a lot of work to be done, and it’s up to you. I recently connected with Turo and Dan Roitman, Founder and CEO of Stroll–two entrepreneurs who have successfully grown their businesses from scratch–and posed the question: What does it take to grow a company from startup to small business?

Here are five must-haves they identified to take your business to the next level.

1. A Culture that Supports Your Purpose

You need to decide what kind of culture you want your company to have. That depends, somewhat, on what you want your company to look like down the road. Start with the end in mind. For many entrepreneurs on the cusp of growth, it’s still go-go-go (and likely will be for a while). But stop working for a second and reflect on what aspirations you have for your company. According to Roitman, “Your long-term game plan should be supported by a culture that will take you there.”

For Stroll, the goal was to be a high-growth company. “We defined what values people need to embrace to make sure our employees are accelerating the business.”

Values like strategy mindedness, ownership thinking, and being the best have made the company one of the fastest growing in the U.S.–growing an average of 73% per year since 2002 and 135% last year.

2. A Sustainable Operation

Can your business survive a week without you? How about four weeks a year, as Roitman suggests? For Turo, “The greatest obstacle has been scaling–to go from actually doing the work myself to training and managing others to do so.”

Of course, it’s hard to loosen the reins. Before you cede control, you need a team you can trust. But if you’re self-funded, getting the best people in the door isn’t easy.

As a stop-gap, hiring a few temporary contractors can free up some of your time–which you can then spend on finding your rockstars.

Also, invest time in codifying some standard operating procedures. Even with a small team, a little structure will go a long way. Develop some guidelines for how work should get done to empower your new hires to hit the ground running, and to keep them aligned with your culture and desired work style.

3. Refined People Process

Once you can afford to take a breath, devote some time to developing people processes. The first step, as Roitman sees it, is developing a great hiring process, “so you can begin cherry-picking your team.”

Before you hire anyone, decide how you will define success–for your company, your employees, and your managers–and how you’ll measure it. Apply this to how you score candidates and gauge cultural fit. Recruiting inevitably takes longer than you expect, and you’ve got a business to run.

So whether you hire an in-house recruiter (as Roitman suggests) or contract this out, get someone to help you build your team.

People processes don’t end with hiring. Open, two-way communication is key as you build your organization. Be transparent. Share your vision, and openly discuss how things are going. Implement a process for tracking employee goals and performance, and meet with your team regularly to give–and receive–feedback. Make sure everyone is set up to succeed at what you hired them to do.

4. A Network of Support

It’s lonely in the driver’s seat. Establishing a network of mentors and non-competing CEOs is pivotal to your personal development and that of your organization. “Get some accountability. Develop a broad network of entrepreneurs so you can learn from them,” says Roitman. There are endless resources available for honing your leadership skills (for instance, Roitman was a member of the peer advisory group Vistage for seven years). Don’t go it alone.

5. An Eye Open for Improvement

Don’t get too comfortable just because you have things cranking a bit. Even if you’ve built a sustainable organization, your work is far from done. As Turo points out: “Be prepared to work harder (and enjoy working harder) than you ever have in your life.”

You’ll make some mistakes (everyone does), which is why process improvement is always iterative. Learn from them, adjust, and consider how you can optimize for success.

“Every time you walk down the street,” says Roitman, “there’s a lesson to be learned about how you can improve the way you’re doing things.”

This list is nowhere near exhaustive, as both Roitman and Turo can attest. What lessons have you learned in your own journey from startup to small business? What else would you include in a list of must-haves? Leave a comment, and share your insights and anecdotes.

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