It’s every entrepreneur’s dream. 

Come up with a great idea on the back of a napkin, pour your heart and soul into making it real, capture your target customer’s heart (and wallet), and raise a ton of money. Then, before you know it, you’ve built the next Alphabet. 

Delightful fantasy aside, most businesses don’t go through this - or any - kind of growth without encountering a host of challenges. And empowering one’s HR department to help navigate these waters is an imperative for forward thinking businesses. 

In recent years, there has been a trend to outsource the HR function to Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs). A fast-growing industry, PEOs now bring in $168 billion in revenue annually (IBISWorld), with more than 80 percent of U.S. firms outsourcing at least one HR function, according to research by Gartner, Inc. 

But when it comes to managing and maintaining company culture through a massive growth spurt, internal HR leaders are vital to get the job done right. They know the business strategy, the leadership and the employees in ways outsiders can never begin to understand.

In fact, in a joint HRCI/Inc. survey of business owners and leaders, 63 percent of respondents agreed (or strongly agreed) that “good HR drives [this] company’s growth, and that almost 80 percent agreed that their HR Leader was essential to the growth of the company. 

Michele Koch, SPHR, is chief culture and people development officer at Republic Bank & Trust Company in Louisville, Ky., and has seen how company culture can take a hit in times of rapid growth when not managed properly. 

“Organizations cannot assume the culture will just fix itself in time,” says Koch, “You have to be proactive in shaping the future.” 

To start with, Koch says, it’s critical to have long-term vision with near-term focus. HR’s role in articulating company goals and priorities cannot be overstated. 

“People need to understand why change is happening in order to get on board. Paint the picture of the positive future, be it in terms of opportunity, industry pressures, customer experience … but be sure to balance the broader strategy with near-term focus.” 

Else, Koch says, it looks like complete internal chaos. 

In addition, when in a rapid growth phase, it is imperative to get everyone aligned and sharpen the focus on core values. 

“People need to know their work is important,” points out Koch. Some roles have a direct line of sight to business results, like salespeople. But some back-office roles can get disconnected. 

Koch suggests the C-Suite charge every leader to ensure they help their teams understand not just the vision and near-term priorities, but equally important, how their role connects; how they are making a positive impact and supporting the company’s success. 

She continues, “Everyone needs to understand what is most important to the company in order to determine what needs to evolve. What makes the company unique? What behaviors and values have been critical to success? What does the company hold sacred that is non-negotiable?” 

Knowing, rediscovering and actively communicating these non-negotiables help shape decisions, processes, and actions. 

Change is hard on most people, points out Koch, including the change brought around by rapid growth. But strong leadership and communication play a critical role in helping employees effectively navigate the change together. 

And allowing HR to optimize its most unique asset - its intimate knowledge of a company’s employees - is one of the smartest things a fast-growing company can do to retain and enhance its company culture. 

After all, that culture is what attracts employees and makes a company a great place to work and attracts top-level talent - which makes for great business. 

So put those flirtatious musings of outsourced HR aside; the investment in your own HR team will be apparent from the day they walk through your doors. Best-in-class HR has a multiplying effect in a business unlike that of any other sector. 

If not, when entering your rapid growth phase, you might be caught off-guard and ill-prepared, which will hamper your organization’s trajectory from the start.

Published on: Aug 3, 2017