While we’ve all been busy diagnosing the internal problems that have led startups like Uber to disrepute, we’ve missed the equally important good news stories. We spoke to People & Culture Lead at Brisbane-based company RedEye Apps, Louise Vorpagel, about what good HR looks like inside a startup.
Startups have gained a reputation for riding roughshod over employee obligations. But it doesn’t have to be this way, as Louise Vorpagel can testify.
Vorpagel, who was nominated for the Dave Ulrich Rising Star Award at the AHRI Awards in 2016, works at one of the success stories – who did HR right from day one. She talked us through what great HR looks like at Brisbane-based startup RedEye Apps, which has expanded its team by more than 150 per cent in the past year.
Lesson 1: Recruitment can be the number one priority – as long as it’s not the only priority
“Good culture starts with good recruitment, but it doesn’t stop there,” says Vorpagel.
When she arrived at RedEye Apps in 2015, her role was as a recruitment coordinator; the company employed 15 people and were looking to scale up. However, as they were growing, it “became quite evident that we needed someone in a more strategic culture and people role.”
Though it is quite unusual to have a ‘people and culture’ person so early on at a startup, she says, RedEye’s CEO identified the need to have organisational culture driven by the top downwards – and effectively managed.
One thing Vorpagel championed as the company rapidly expanded was an onboarding process that was iterative and reactive – “meaning if someone gave us feedback we could change it on the fly.” This meant that while HR was an ever-present part of each new employee’s experience, it too was able to evolve and adapt with the company.
Lesson 2: The CEO and HR need to be on the same team
Vorpagel views a supportive CEO as essential to good HR, someone who “gets why culture is important”.
“You need to find a CEO that supports good culture,” she says and attributes much of her success to her ability to act as a business partner.
This included Vorpagel’s involvement in executive decision making. “Because the company moves so quickly, it’s really important for me to always know what’s going on and what’s coming next in all areas of the team.” From this vantage point, she is able to assess the impact that rapid changes will have on the team – and ensure that it is communicated to staff.
Lesson 3: Hiring for culture fit is more important at a startup, not less.
When asked what her biggest learning curve was, Vorpagel admits it was struggling to align the company culture with the in-demand skills required for certain roles. During periods where there was pressure to fill a role quickly, “we did make a couple of mistakes where we sacrificed culture fit for technical capabilities.”
The consequence – having to invest time correcting hires – made Vorpagel and the leadership team double down on placing their culture values at the core of what they do.
Lesson 4: As companies grow and change, you need to break… and then rebuild.
The RedEye Apps team now has a remote team in Las Vegas on top of the main Brisbane office, which has grown much bigger since she came on board.
There’s a tension there, she admits, because “your processes break every time you double in size”.
Though the team “try not to have a million policies and processes, because that stifles innovation,” it’s her responsibility to ensure that when team members are encouraged to try something new, there’s a process of analysis and reflection on areas of improvement for next time. And leaders who are often quickly promoted into management roles because of the pace of rapid growth are partnered with established mentors, as well as on-the-job training to ensure they’re supported.
“As a tech company, many of our employees could find work anywhere in the world. When employees do have that capability, you need to be able to have a culture that’s very attractive.”
Get recognition for the great HR work you/your organisation has achieved. Apply for Australia’s most prestigious HR awards – the AHRI Awards. Applications close 17 May 2017.