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How to build a successful HR department from scratch in a startup

By | Manisha Kadagathur | Director, Zephyr Consulting Services

How should an HR leader build a successful HR department in a startup? Developing an HR business plan and legacy is equally exhilarating and daunting. Evidence-based HR models provide a futuristic way to building a successful HR department and developing your HR strategy.


In an earlier article, I wrote about how founders should think about HR and how to build a coaching culture. In this article, I provide the tools to HR leaders to build an empathetic and evidence-based culture for high growth startups.

A typical day for an HR leader at a startup requires a decision an hour on a broad range of activities such as hiring, promotion, pay, administrative matters, compliance, and grievance resolution. Part of the lure of a startup is the rapid decision making and lack of bureaucracy. At the same time, lack of a well thought-out, evidence-backed people strategy, policies, and processes do result in a net negative. In September 2014, The Economist Intelligence Unit conducted a global survey of 375 executives consisting of C-suite executives (58%); the remainder at the management level up to senior vice president. More than two-thirds of respondents (67%) serve an HR function; the remainder (33%) serve a wide range of other functions. KPMG published a report on this survey, and summarized the following:

  •  Evidence-based HR is still at embryonic, pioneering stage
  • The progress of evidence-based HR is hampered by a negative perception of the HR function
  • Evidence threatens the established order, inevitably triggering resistance as a consequence
  • Whatever the obstacles, and whatever the resistance, the growth of evidence-based HR will gain momentum; companies and HR practitioners must respond urgently to avoid losing ground

All the more reason for an HR leader of a startup to adopt evidence-based policy making. In this article, I argue that there is a way to build for an adrenalin-driven, high growth startup without the fecundity of a bureaucratic corporate management ethos.

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