How do you fulfil your role as an HR manager at a scale-up?

23 February 2024

When do you join a scale-up as an HR manager, and how can you fulfil that role? Drawing from insights provided by HR managers at 10 scale-ups.

Scale-ups vary in size and structure. A company transitions from a start-up to a scale-up upon achieving some successes and experiencing growth. But when is the optimal time to onboard an HR manager, and how can that role be effectively executed?

Blog - HR scale up

A welcome change of pace

Typically, the founders of the company initially undertake HR responsibilities. Recruitment tends to be ad hoc, fostering a close-knit, warm culture, while more stringent HR tasks such as payroll are often outsourced. The timing of your appointment as an HR manager varies across different scale-ups.

As a start-up begins to experience exponential growth and demands increased professionalisation, the need for an HR manager becomes apparent. A phase of rapid expansion necessitates a dynamic organisational approach that can adapt swiftly. Your initial challenge lies in supporting this growth within a dynamic framework.

Establishing a dynamic and supportive structure

Given the dynamic nature and rapid evolution inherent to scale-ups, it's crucial to develop structures and processes collaboratively. Actively seeking feedback from colleagues is paramount, striking the right balance between pragmatism and automation. You play a pivotal role in discerning when to solidify and automate processes.

Continuously soliciting feedback thereafter ensures you're attuned to when further adjustments are required.

A pillar of support for leadership

Nurturing talent and fostering retention stand out as primary responsibilities within a burgeoning scale-up, with leadership playing an invaluable role. Managers seek a reliable sounding board and support system.

Regularly connecting and encouraging team leads to facilitate the growth and development of their talent is essential. Proactively engaging them and identifying suitable tools to alleviate their concerns are key. By fostering accessibility and minimising administrative burdens, you encourage their engagement with you.

Preserving the nurturing culture

Start-ups often originate from a group of friends or individuals with pre-existing relationships, fostering a familial atmosphere. Typically, there's a shared commitment to the mission, driving everyone to give their best for each other and the company.

Yannick Wouters, HR business partner at StepUp Consulting, attests to this: "At StepUp Consulting, there is a warm familial culture, crucial to maintain as we grow. We are actively nurturing this." As growth accelerates, investing in preserving this cohesive culture becomes paramount. Doing so not only aids in attracting new talent but also in retaining existing talent.

How can you contribute to this?

  • Regularly engaging with employees to stay abreast of developments is essential. It's not uncommon for leadership to become so focused on growth and future steps that connecting with employees becomes challenging. In such instances, you serve as the glue binding them together.
  • Investing in connectivity is key! There should be ample connection to the mission: showcasing the company's impact on customers is vital. Particularly, younger employees seek this additional sense of purpose. Moreover, fostering connections among employees is crucial. You might integrate enjoyable team-building activities with personal development initiatives, establish a relaxation area, or organise monthly meetings to keep everyone informed.
  • Infusing shared company values into all operations is essential. Use them as benchmarks in your recruitment process and incorporate them into performance evaluations.
  • Prioritise mental well-being. Foster a safe environment where employees feel comfortable being open. Communication regarding the importance of mental well-being is paramount. Invest in building trust so employees feel empowered to approach you when needed. Workloads can be demanding, and without proper support, burnout is a risk. Read here about the 5 major challenges to mental well-being within scale-ups.

Take care of yourself and manage your workload

Your workload is substantial. Colleagues often turn to you in times of need. Finding the right balance to ensure it remains manageable is crucial. Take regular breaks to assess your surroundings and identify true priorities.

Seeking out useful tools can alleviate your workload. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Frequently fielding similar queries? Establish an FAQ accessible to employees. 
  • Are there tasks suitable for employee self-management? Consider implementing an employee self-service system. 
  • Do employees seek support for personal issues? Identify external partners to whom you can confidently refer them.

You needn't manage everything single-handedly. Outsourcing or delegating tasks when necessary is entirely acceptable. Establishing and respecting your boundaries is crucial for long-term sustainability. Identify appropriate partners or tools to ensure you're also taking care of yourself.

BloomUp is a digital platform facilitating employees' access to mental support from professionals. In just a few clicks, they can connect with a mental health professional to address their challenges collaboratively. By offering accessible support, your organisation can mitigate risks and enhance employee engagement.