It can be easy to ignore HR at a startup. If you're just two guys (or gals) with a dream and an iron work ethic sitting in a garage or co-working space, it can feel a bit funny to discuss policies and procedures. Plus, you've got plenty of other things to do.

But according to one startup scene veteran, as your business grows, you'd better start discussing people issues sooner rather than later. Startups ignore HR at their peril, warns Stanford GSB professor and VC Robert Siegel in a recent Insights by Stanford piece rounding up his advice for startups.

“The single largest issue that causes the most emotional heartache in a startup is people challenges. Every organization has them. if you put best HR practices into place in the earliest days and are doing the right things right, you'll have fewer and fewer issues and blowups,” he comments, before doling out a half dozen ideas for startups to get their HR issues sorted out early. Among the most common and deadly mistakes Siegel sees are these challenges:

1. Not hiring an HR person

As mentioned in the intro, with so much to think about when you're launching a business, HR can easily fall by the wayside. But if you stick your head in the sand and put off hiring HR talent for too long, you'll regret it, Siegel warns. “It's a strategic issue for any company to hire the best people,” he notes, explaining that “if you don't have an HR person with a seat at the table, you will not get the best people on your team.”

2. Putting perks above communication

Startups are famous for their sometimes outlandish-sounding perks, but according to Siegel, the best new businesses aren't focused on free haircuts and lavish lunches (though they may have those) but on building communication into the culture.

The best company culture, he says, is one “where you can give feedback to each other on what's working and what's not working.” Fail to give your team “the ways, the signals, the language to talk about values--how to talk about behavior that is acceptable” and you'll likely end up wildly off course.

3. Ignoring employee development

Your business is growing, but are your employees? If you're not helping them get better at their jobs and acquire new skills, then you're not going to hire or keep the talent you need.

“Employers must ask themselves certain questions: Are you giving your employees the tools to be effective in their jobs? Are you providing them with tools to grow their careers? Are you enabling opportunities for them to accomplish all the things they want to do?” Siegel asks. Answer no, and you’re going to have problems. And that goes for startups as well as bigger businesses.

Are you committing any of these HR sins at your startup?

Published on: Aug 26, 2015