Glenn NishimuraStartup HR & Workplace Culture Expert

I have the privilege of working with founders and employees of some of the brightest startups and scale-ups across Canada, the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Regardless of whether you call it HR or People Ops, thinking strategically about people is critical to gaining traction and scaling. Think chess, not checkers.

Some common challenges I can you help you with:

• Co-founder issues: can't find the ideal one? repeated miscommunication? constantly butting heads? You have to be in sync or else it's a waste of time, energy and money. You and your roles also have to change and evolve as your business grows.

• Building a team: who’s the right fit? what roles do you need and when? how do you attract 'A' players? If you’re hiring based solely on skills, or because someone’s likeable, that’s not a good sign.

• Building a resilient and scalable culture: forget free food and bringing your dog to work (although they’re both cool to have). Your culture runs much deeper than that. It’s your startup’s immune system.

• Managing employee performance, happiness and engagement: sure money helps, but you would be surprised how low it really ranks.

• Job satisfaction: feel a knot in your stomach on Sunday nights? it could be the day old sushi talking, but it’s more likely that work is the reason. Maybe it’s an ongoing conflict with someone, or feeling like you or your work aren’t appreciated anymore. Or maybe you’ve simply outgrown the place. Whatever the reason, your physical and mental health are probably suffering as a result. It’s not worth it.

Bottom line: working at, or on, a startup should be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience. I can help you get you there.

Recent Answers

it sounds like you've already answered your own question – you needed a COO yesterday.

I would disagree with your CMO that adding a COO is just adding "another layer". It is, in fact, what keeps the lights on. If your house isn't in order, everything else falls apart. With 26 employees, one of your biggest ongoing challenges will be your culture, and managing the morale, motivation, and performance of your people.

Outside investors are interested in a number of things – not the least of which are your operating margins, who does what, and how efficiently the whole organizational structure is organized and communicates.

One last thing: don't make the mistake of just hiring for skills or experiences. Fit is especially critical in a COO role. if you haven't done so already, define your culture, define your vision, define your values. Then work on developing a performance-oriented job description for the COO, then start your search. In that order.

I'm happy to jump on a call to talk more, and help to strengthen the business case to your CXX colleagues if needed.

Start with an honest and transparent conversation between the three of you. Bringing someone in-house F/T when they've been working remotely P/T changes the relationship dynamic, so it's important to emphasize honesty, respect and approachability on all sides from the get go.

If there's an impasse around anything financial, explore other options that your developer might consider to be equally as important – both in the short and long term. Telecommuting, flex hours, additional health benefits for their family are just a few options. Longer term, if you see potential in them as a tech lead or CTO, paying for outside technical or leadership courses may be exactly what they need to feel you're making an investment in them.

I'm happy to jump on a call to talk further, and help you create a plan.

Managing the performance of any employee is difficult, but absolutely necessary. To do it successfully, you need to have a few fundamentals in place first:

1) A current and accurate performance-oriented job description that focuses on accountabilities. This establishes a baseline for expected performance. Without one, you'll be measuring in the dark, and may end up focusing on areas that aren't priorities, and don't drive results.

2) KPIs are always recommended. But whatever you put into place, remember that project management is expectation management, and thus not everything can be measured empirically, like budget deviation or milestones missed. It will be important to consider anecdotal or 'soft' metrics, and get team and client input on how well they communicate, motivate, handle conflict, deal with cross functional issues etc.

3) Measure fit. Too many companies fail in this regard. No matter how well the PM functionally performs as per their job description, it's equally important to measure how well they fit the company's culture, live your purpose and core values, and contribute to achieving the company's overall vision.

If you have a capable PM, with strong self initiative, a weekly meeting should be the bare minimum. That said, a quick 5 minute huddle at the beginning of the day is recommended – especially for new hires still in the process of getting their feet wet – followed by another quick 5 minute huddle at the end of the day to recap progress, issues etc. You can loosen or tighten this up as needed, once they begin demonstrating the autonomy and smart decision-making you expect to see.

I'm happy to jump on a call with you to talk more specifics, and lay out a plan you can follow.

Like many startups I've seen, little (if any) time or energy is devoted to first designing your culture. Yes, culture can be designed. As opposed to 'inherited by default' which is what has happened in your situation. Likely as a result of focusing too much on skills, and not enough on fit. But 'fit' means different things to different people, which is why identifying and defining fit is part of designing your culture upfront.

Unless you have a clear idea of who fits your company – and that includes understanding who they are, what motivates them, how they think, how they feel, and how they behave – you'll end up with individuals who may be skilled at what they do, but will always be just a 'group of employees', and never a true team.

Take the time to define your company mission, its vision, and the core values everyone must live by. These form the nucleus of your cultural DNA, and from there, create a more effective talent attraction and hiring process that includes specific activities that will help you to filter out those personality types that are currently driving you nuts.
For example, if people constantly come to you looking for solutions rather than solving their own problems, your interview process must include questions that will help you to identify self-starters. At the same time, your leadership style should adopt more of a coaching model – this will encourage your employees to think through and uncover answers on their own. It can be very empowering for them, and free up your time as well.

Happy to jump on a call with you to talk more specifics about this. It sounds like a situation that's best rectified asap.

This is a great question, thanks for asking it. I would add that many young entrepreneurs don't yet have the experience or wisdom to know when to make rational decisions, and when to make decisions based on emotion.

Hiring (specifically interviewing) is a good example. Too many bad hires are made as a result of being swayed entirely by likeability, or 'following your gut'. To be effective, hiring has to more balanced, based on specific requirements, and more objective.

But when an employee comes to you with a personal problem and they're visibly upset as a result, you have to turn off your brain and turn on your heart. Listen carefully, be empathetic, and be supportive.

It's better to be a solo founder than to choose the wrong co-founder. The road is littered with startups that imploded because of the wrong co-founding team.

The best co-founders aren't those who just complement your areas of strength, but those whom you know well, and get along with best. That's why the most successful co-founding teams are made up of individuals who have a history together – often at college/university, or another startup. They know each other's temperament, risk tolerance, communication abilities and other critical factors.

Your own network of people is still the best place to start. From there, determine 'fit' – not skills – before anything else.

I'm happy to help you define your fit requirements further if you wanted to schedule a call. Good luck!

"How can we help you?"

This is broad enough to cover work-related enquiries ("We need more training in X") and personal ("I'm feeling very stressed lately"). Both are important for HR to know and develop solutions for.

To achieve meaningful results however, this question has to be asked of the employees by the managers and leaders of the organization as well, on an ongoing basis. No technology can or should ever replace that.

First, congratulations on giving this important topic some consideration before you find out that your team of 20 don't get along or work productively together!

Building a strong team and determining your talent requirements share one thing in common: clear objectives.

Before you post your first job ad or interview your first candidate, it's imperative to be clear on your company's vision and values. This is as critical a metric for team building as determining what skills you need. You may be successful in hiring skilled and experienced people, but if they don't work well as a team, if they don't respect one another, if they don't challenge each other to grow and get better or support each other when times get tough, then the business doesn't move forward (or worse). Be clear about what you see the company becoming, what core values & guiding principles you expect from yourself and your team, and hire those who demonstrate the greatest passion and humility. This will create a solid environment for amazing teamwork to thrive.

To determine what kind of talent you need, start from the 'top down', not 'bottom up'. Focus on your business goals and objectives first. Creating an org chart and cobbling together individual job descriptions based on your current needs may meet your immediate requirements to get work done, but it may not be scalable, or your resources may not be properly allocated. Think ahead as best you can to ensure that everything that everyone does is working toward achieving your goals and objectives.

I would welcome a call if you would like to talk further, but in the meantime here's a link to a recent eBook I wrote on team building. I hope all of this has been of some help!

There is likely a lot of background to this question, so it's difficult to answer online with one specific solution.

To begin, "control freak" and "abuse of power" can be quite subjective terms. Objectively, in what ways do you feel he is overstepping his authority? Is this a recent event, or an ongoing concern? Has he been formally spoken to or reprimanded by senior management in the past about this behaviour?

Hopefully your organization has policies in place to address behaviour like this. Setting clear expectations around what is and isn't acceptable, and turning to progressive discipline if necessary, often help the employee to understand the outcomes (possible suspension, demotion, termination etc), should they continue down this path.

It's important however to first understand and deal with the root cause of this behaviour, not just the symptoms. Speak with the individual candidly and honestly, and ask them if they feel it's appropriate to behave like this, and try to reveal WHY it's happening. Perhaps they're having difficulties in their personal life, or they're stressed at work. Be respectful, and work with them as best you can.

If you would like additional help, please arrange a call with me. I would be very happy to help you get through this in a way that is best for the employee, and your company.

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