Why HR Managers’ Success Depends on the “Spice Girls Question”.

If you’ve made it as a people manager at a startup over the last two and a half years, pat yourself on the back.

There have been constant new challenges – first grappling with supporting teams remotely during Covid and now managing hybrid setups as some staff return to the office. Recently, managers have been tested by cautious investors and the possibility of a difficult fundraising environment.

So how can managers better prepare and support their teams in times of change? From my experience, there are five key aspects a hiring manager needs to bring to the table.

A HR manager must understand and communicate the organization’s vision

As a people manager, it is your job to speak on behalf of the company. You must understand and own the vision, mission and strategy. You need to see yourself as an employer, not an employee. It is crucial to stay up to date and actively participate in all forums relevant to your job, regularly checking all relevant communication channels such as Slack and keeping your team informed. You can’t help your team understand key organizational decisions during times of change if you don’t stay on top of things yourself.

Delegating and empowering your team is your main job

As a HR manager, you need to deliver results through your team. Therefore, delegating and empowering your team are your main tasks. In times of change, delegating means being agile and staying even closer to the team. There will be more iterations, and more openness to feedback is needed in both directions—from the team to the hiring manager and back.

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To make this possible you need to support. And the support is as individual as your team members. Some of them would rather brainstorm with you, others would like to present results and get feedback. To achieve that individual level of support, ask your team members the right questions: “What do you want me to do?” “What’s the best way for me to reach out to you?” This includes kicking people out when they don’t do well.

Be fair, transparent and act quickly if someone isn’t right for you

If someone doesn’t suit you, you need to break up. Personally, I don’t believe in performance enhancement programs. In my experience, you can only revive performance a little, but not sustainably. Instead, I recommend quick clean cuts. If performance is low, your team member is either not in the right role or not at the right company. And that’s okay. But you have to do something about it, because everyone involved suffers as a result. Be very fair, transparent and act quickly.

“Find a solution” mentality

Your job as a people manager in a startup is to enjoy constant problem-solving. And these days, HR managers have more problems to solve than usual. When you’re agile and focused on finding solutions, challenges seem like adventures, not challenges.

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More importantly, solving problems requires constant prioritization and focus. As a leadership team, we achieve this focus with what we call the “Spice Girls question”: tell me what you want, what you really, really want? Quarterly OKRs also give goals focus and transparency.

As a human resources manager, be human and take care of yourself

Although your team may face challenges, remember to consider your own well-being. Be open about your personal struggles and know that it’s perfectly okay to show vulnerability. You don’t have to pretend to have all the answers – quite the opposite. Lead by example and ask others for support. This is something I strongly recommend in good times and in bad times: get support from your peers or current or former managers. Talk to other managers in your network and find out how they deal with it.

Truly great managers possess both compassion and empathy in the highest degree – whether they come naturally or develop these skills. These skills are essential in difficult times like these. And despite the uncertainty, you can give employees the assurance that they can always expect transparency, support and care from you as a leader.

Julia Carloff-Winkelmann is Dance’s Chief People Officer.

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