Critical Lessons from Start-Ups for Human Resources
11.07.17   by Darryl Wee
The news is constantly discussing how digital start-up companies are disrupting their industries. Interestingly, when I examine these companies further, I find that many practices which are common among start-ups to drive more value in their businesses that HR should also consider adopting.

Are there lessons that HR can learn from start-up companies?

1) Start by Resolving Pain Points:

When I listen to CEOs from successful start-ups describe the ideas behind launching their companies, 95% of time the business was designed to resolve a real-life problem they faced: a specific pain point. 

In HR, we should adopt a similar perspective, by looking at organizational pain points. Notice I refer to organizational pain points, not only HR pain points. HR can create the most value by looking outside of our core function and to the entire organization. 

In order to do this successfully, we must approach the pain point from the perspective of the customer and the business as a whole. We must examine how, as an organization, we can resolve an issue for the business or customer. The solution may bring us back to some HR policies or practices; however, our analysis should not begin inside the HR function. It is important that we look at the issue strategically and from the outside-in, and not from the inside-out.

I am not suggesting that as HR we should not represent our function, or use our functional expertise to address said issue, but I have found that when HR operates as a business leader rather than just as a functional expert, more value is created. The business as a whole benefits from another pair of eyes, analyzing an issue with an external lens. Once we have clarity on the pain point and how we may want to respond, we can then add our HR lens to explore additional solutions.

If we are looking at resolving HR pain points, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of our employees and honestly look at what is and is not working. In order to make a real impact, we must minimize our emotional defensiveness from the perceived effectiveness of an HR solution, and really listen to what our customers are telling us.

2) Think Big, Test Small, Learn Fast:

After launching their products, start-ups develop, improve, and adapt when necessary. Frequently, after these numerous improvements and tweaks, the original value proposition of their product is significantly different from the end result.

In many larger organizations, there is an expectation that the product be 100% perfect prior to launch.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but no matter much we plan, unexpected things can happen that we are not prepared for. While I do believe that we must be very thorough in our work, I also feel that a more agile approach allows us to react more quickly, focus on solutions, and accomplish more optimal results.

The “think big, test small” methodology is being implemented throughout many organizations. I have noticed that even government ministers are using this terminology. I would believe in this concept, but take it one step further: “learn fast”.

For years, Dave Ulrich has inspired HR and business leaders to “think big”. From my perspective, we should always plan our actions in order to have the most significant impact on the entire business. By thinking big, however, we should not be deterred by the size or complexity of the issue or solution at hand. “Testing small” is an excellent means of quickly piloting a solution to ensure its feasibility and scalability. Start-ups constantly prototypes that are 70-80% finalized for beta testing with the intent of receiving meaningful feedback before the full product launch. The company expects imperfections, but is committed to obtaining insights into potential shortfalls and oversights as quickly as possible. This agile approach allows organizations to act swiftly in refining the product before the final launch.

The third element is to “learn fast”. Testing small is not effective or useful if we are not learning from customer feedback to adjust our products and solutions accordingly. In some cases, we see companies rapidly realizing a more compelling and practical application of a solution or product, so they “pivot” their focus entirely. As HR, we should also learn how to be agile, and pivot to boost our organization’s value and total impact. 

I am sure that there are many additional lessons we can apply; however, in following the theme of this article, I believe that HR can actively help reduce organizational and individual pain points by “thinking big, testing small and learning fast”. Utilizing this methodology, we will increase our impact on the people within our organization.

Related Content

10 Skills HR Pros Need To Navigate Paradox That Delivers Business Results
Have HR Professionals Made Progress? The 30-Year Evolution of HR Competencies
Analytics on HR Analytics: What Really Works
3 Technology Improvements to Boost Your HR Department Outcomes