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As excitement builds for SUMMIT 2019, HRMAC had the opportunity to ask one of the featured Summit breakout session speakers, Jessica Adams, VP of People and HR at Brad’s Deals, about her upcoming session, “If You Build It, They Will Come: Building an HR Function at a Startup.” Read on to hear about her experience and insights into not only what it means to be in HR at a startup, but a sneak preview into her SUMMIT 2019 discussion with fellow Brad’s Deals colleague, Alyssa Snyder.

HR Leader: What is a common misconception about startups and how their HR departments operate?

Jessica Adams (JA): Most people think HR is just recruiting, growing and compliance, but you actually get to wear many different hats that does encompass [those things] but also ranges from managing payroll to finding the right conference room table for meetings to implementing the right benefits for your team.

HR Leader: What’s the biggest cultural shift to expect when transitioning from a corporate HR department to a startup?

JA: Radical change. When you work on the corporate side, you are confined to a narrower path and way of thinking. At a startup, the world is your oyster. You have the flexibility and support to try new things. You have a blank canvas and are working with folks that want to push the envelope. All at a pace you do not find in corporate America.

HR Leader: What’s a positive gain that most people don’t consider when thinking about moving to a less-established company and HR department?

JA: You are creating rather than implementing HR strategies and that is incredibly valuable. You write the playbook, you don’t follow the playbook. So, you get to do things from a strategy standpoint that you may not get the chance to do as early or as often in your career and you get exposed to many parts of the business versus being a very narrow implementer.

HR Leader: What’s a creative tip you have for others recruiting for a startup, especially if the organization does not yet offer desired competitive benefits?

JA: You have to create a significant compensation structure. If your company temporarily lacks in secure benefits offerings, potential employees should still be able to make gains through the bigger upside of compensation options. Giving candidates and current employees some ownership in the organization will attract the right people and organically start the process of shifting your organization’s mindset from a startup to a stable company.

HR Leader: How would you define “extreme transparency” and how does it relate to HR departments in startups?

JA: At Brad’s Deals we don’t believe that it is possible to overshare. Extreme transparency isn’t a “policy,” but it’s a cultural driver and permeates everything we do from knowing top-line goals, to providing access to everyone’s calendars, to 360-degree reviews for every employee, to sharing all-employee survey results with the entire company, to asking employees to give us a “smiley face” reaction at the end of each week to probe on engagement. This type of transparency ensures we, as a company, are aligned and helps teammates focus on their career growth in the right direction. We think it is essential to share as much as we can with our employees and it’s been instrumental for goal execution.

HR Leader: Startups can have a more casual environment, which often makes employees feel comfortable to take risks and innovate. What do you think is the best approach for creating rules and boundaries that won’t hinder creativity and innovation?

JA: One thing we have is a rigorous onboarding program. Our program starts before an employee’s first day and continues all the way through their first year. Onboarding includes formal meetings with every department, frequently scheduled check-ins, and inclusion in internal community-building events so that new employees can quickly feel like a valued member of our community and understand the holistic view of the organization. We also created a program around a “Culture Catalyst.” This specially appointed employee embodies the brand, the values and the mission of our organization, and acts as our employee happiness barometer. When you combine great recruiting with a strong onboarding process, and have a culture catalyst as support, you really nip any of these problems in the bud.

HR Leader: Do you think it’s necessary to gain corporate HR experience before transitioning to a startup?

JA: I think it helps. Prior to Brad’s Deals, I was fortunate to learn from very established HR communities. Having seen how a Fortune 500 company manages their HR function, and learning the good, the bad and the ugly about it, helped me to build a strong foundation for my own department. There’s a definite advantage to taking what they did right and further refining those practices for your own use. You can also shed the non-impactful initiatives that are traditionally associated with say Toby from the “The Office,” to create an impactful HR function for your business. At the end of the day, HR at the corporate level can be seen as scary, but with a startup HR really has a big opportunity to be a partner and support system for other teammates.

HR Leader: In 280 characters or less, convince someone to attend your session.

JA: We’ve created an award-winning HR function and culture at Brad’s Deals, growing from 9 to 100 happy employees. Our experiences are applicable to any size business, and our session will share what has worked and a few things that haven’t. (TWEET THIS)

Register to hear from Jessica in-person at SUMMIT 2019, November 19 at Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont, IL.