Yes, your startup needs to think about HR no matter how small it is, and nope, you don’t have to settle for boring, boilerplate policies. 

By Frieda Edgette (Founder, Novos)

A recent WIRED article highlights how human resources issues are making headlines week after week, including Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to nix telecommuting and extend maternity leave, and Google’s VP of HR Laszlo Bock’s recent emphasis on supporting managers to increase workforce performance.

HR policies are clearly changing. The days of work in exchange for a paycheck and benefits only are in decline. Tech companies are adjusting policies to reflect today’s work/life realities to retain diverse talent and meet their evolving needs. It is no secret that turnover will cost you – particularly at a startup – in lost time, energy and productivity. Total costs associated with turnover range from 90% to 200% of annual salary, according to the Society of Human Resource Management.

How can you set up people policies to ensure your talent pool stays inspired, motivated, happy and invested? It is never too early to start crafting a holistic plan for working with and supporting your team as it scales over time.

Align With Your Ideal Culture

What kind of workplace do you seek to provide – and work in yourself? Your values and culture define your startup – and people policies are an extension of that vision. From a people systems and operations standpoint, how is culture reflected in your policies?

Ask — and Listen

From candidate interviews to on-boarding to post-probation assessments to annual performance reviews and strategic planning, what do your people need from the organization to succeed? What excites them about the future – and how do they see themselves shaping this vision? All too often, reviews and assessments are one-way communications: “We’d like to see you excel here…” “Your weaknesses are there…” Asking questions is one of the most direct ways to gauge whether policies are aligned with talent needs – as well as source new ideas.

Observe and Use Data

How are people interacting with one another – and are they? How does your team respond in highly stressful environments? Perhaps take a week and dedicate a few hours each day to just observing your team’s dynamics. What does the data say: work logs, project management timelines and tangible metrics? Mayer looked at VPN logs and Google reviewed feedback surveys for data to substantiate their decisions.

Get Real

What can you realistically afford and when? If a wellness package that includes massage and mani/pedis is not feasible at this time, what are some alternative perks to aid mental health at low cost: weekly meditations, team walks/runs or an in-kind yoga class? Manage expectations. You’re not Google (yet) so having free, opulent meals is off the table; however, how can you provide healthy foods to keep people fueled? What does it look like to phase in a 401K plan in a year, and what needs to happen structurally to make it happen?

Language Matters

What we say and how we say it defines an experience. People know when administrative chatter is PR speak versus when it embodies felt values. Internally, policy language is shifting away from traditional HR terminology to “people” vernacular. What do you call your startups initiatives? Does the name and description accurately express a feeling, an experience or a value you seek to exude?


Just like your product, testing and refining are the names of the game for your people policies. Some initiatives and benefits may suit the team for a period of time and then lose effectiveness – just look at Yahoo! and Google. Things and people change. It is only natural for structures to change too to remain effective.

37af633About the guest blogger: Frieda K. Edgette is Founder and Principal of Novos, a change management and coaching consultancy that helps individuals and organizations through strategic transitions. Frieda is also Founder of Courage to Run, a leadership initiative dedicated to mutually developing female professionals through, yes, running, brunching and collectively inspiring. 

Photo credit: Philippe Lewicki via Flickr.