Startup Culture

The Startup Centre (Chennai) had asked me for my opinion on ‘HR Policies for a startup’. I shared some thoughts. Here is a capture of some key ones.

As we say, a startup is an experiment set out to prove a set of hypotheses. Once they prove them, they transform to organized enterprises.

HR Framework should keep this ‘transit nature’ of the firm while putting policies (or rules of thumb) early on.

1. Some policies are reversible with no consequence to team morale. Infact they are welcome (Ex: Formal induction, Formal paperwork)

2. Some policies are reversible and would be accepted if adequately rationalized (Ex: Insistence on an employee number/tag, Formal Leave Policy, Dress code)

3. Some policies are not reversible without considerable damage to morale (Ex: Calling someone a CFO and then ‘promoting’ them to Senior manager – It happened to me :), anything that thus far defined organization culture and the new policy numbs it (Ex: No Table tennis during lunch hours, because we are now a serious company)

Policies are certainly required because

1. When in doubt, we all have one common reference point. Avoid nasty conversations.

2. It articulates culture and values that the founding team tries to inculcate. Learning by watching is stressful for new employees

Startups are good because they are rational and retain common sense. So policies should reflect these expectations.

A point about fairness:

Fariness is not Equality. Equality is for socialists and communists. In a meritocratic organization, the definition of fairness is just that – Be fair to what people bring to the table.

This specifically applies to perks, allowances, awards, opportunties etc. The organization should know that winners are treated differently. Its just that in a startup most people are winners and some are stars.

A successful founder would promote a star (but not at the cost of alienating his/her own other employees) and would ensure that the star does not turn into a prima donna.

 

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