Most startups are founded with the hope that they will eventually grow. It’s an exciting goal that’s worth working toward, but without the right preparation, things can fall apart quickly. That’s why it’s vital to invest in scalable operations from the beginning.
Scalable operations (made up of scalable processes) can withstand a number of stressors and potential scenarios. They are built to handle volume – the number of employees, for example – and keep things running smoothly through lightweight, yet robust, processes.
Building scalable operations from the start
Here’s the most important tip: Don’t wait until you have to scale. Many startups are underspending in HR initially – and that’s taking a big risk.
During a growth phase, your HR team will shift some of its focus to support talent acquisition. They’ll have to respond to (often unpredictable) issues that arise with new people joining.
Your organization needs that adaptability to respond to new challenges. It would be a waste of valuable time to still be setting up basic processes and policies and thinking about how to automate them.
This should happen before scaling, so your team can capitalize on the momentum you’ve created.
Investing in scalable operations early on is especially important in venture-funded companies. Once these organizations enter the growth phase, they want to focus on scaling revenue – hiring 50 people per month in the sales team, for example – not fixing internal processes. Internal operations should never be the bottleneck.
But even those companies with slower growth (i.e. bootstrapped businesses or those without venture funding) should invest in scalable processes. This is especially true if you’re mainly hiring highly skilled workers who have high expectations for their experience and may get frustrated quickly.
Remember: Poor operations are your Achilles’ heel.
Consequences of inaction
If you don’t invest in automated operations with a solid foundation early on, here’s what could happen:
- Loss of efficiency – People will constantly have to search for what they need and get disrupted in their workflows.
- Employee dissatisfaction – Employees could lose trust in the organization. This is especially tricky in remote settings because teams are more disconnected, but people still want to get stuff done.
- High churn – Low satisfaction leads to high turnover, which is especially painful in early stage companies with little redundancy of skills and resources.
- Worsened customer experience – Any internal strife within the organization can translate to poor service and a negative customer experience. This issue could slow the momentum of your growth as well.
What your people ops team needs during growth
Instead of creating bottlenecks with unscalable operations, give your HR team room to tackle new (sometimes unpredictable) challenges that come up: for example, compensation bands, company culture, visa issues for international workers, etc.
Additionally, source the data they need to identify and fix bottlenecks, whether from repeating questions or unclear processes.
It’s key to define your playbook – i.e. set high standards for what employee journeys should look like – from the very beginning. If you wait to define the playbook during growth, you’ll be forced to make trade-offs, so your culture & people processes will never be the best they can be.
Best practices for building scalable operations
As you plan your scalable operations, here are some best practices and timeline benchmarks to use as a guide:
When you’re approaching 30-40 employees, you should have the first key journeys defined. These include onboarding, relocation, travel expenses, and others depending on your organization.
Once you’re approaching 100 employees, there should be a system in place that allows you to measure and adapt. All policies don’t have to be defined, but your team should remove as many transactional tasks as possible.
If you ever hit a moment when you know you need to hire 20, 50, or even 100 new people in the next three months, it may already be too late – so start investing in scalable operations now.
As you define processes to ensure your organization is scalable, automate employee journeys at key moments, like onboarding or relocation. You can do all this and make the information easily accessible across channels employees already use (like Slack, MS Teams, and Google Chat) with an experience-centric automation platform like Back.