A 4-Part Framework for Scaling Your People and Talent Function
When it comes to building an enduring company, so much hinges on how an organization handles the different aspects of people and culture. We often have unrealistic expectations of founders. We set them up for failure by assuming that entrepreneurship is synonymous with leadership. They are, in fact, two very different sets of skills.
The good news is that management and mentoring skills can be learned. Beth Steinberg, Senior Vice President of People and Talent at Chime, has spent more than twenty years helping leaders overcome complex organizational and growth issues. Her experience in organization development, talent strategy, and leadership development has helped many companies successfully navigate some of the most trying growing pains. Beth joined Blake Bartlett on The BUILD Podcast to share what a “model for scale” looks like in the people/talent function.
“Companies often point to doubling or tripling their headcount as a measure of success, but I’m not sure that’s the right metric. In fact, it can signal some bad over-hiring behavior,” says Beth. “Focusing on a more holistic view—one that includes all the different aspects of people and culture—will provide much better insight into the health, welfare, and growth of the company.”
This means that instead of focusing on hiring faster, which is what a lot of VCs and board members advocate, it’s more effective to slow down and look at a wide range of indicators. What does your diversity, equity, and belonging strategy look like? Have you done engagement surveys, and, if so, what are those scores? How are you developing leadership capabilities within the organization?
The point is, it’s not just about attracting and retaining talent. It’s about engaging and developing that talent and doing all of it in a way that scales seamlessly as an organization grows.
The 4-part model for scale
Beth uses a four-part model she first encountered while working with Nike to help organizations cover all the important, people-centric areas that ultimately become the cornerstone of financial success and long-term growth and sustainability.
“Nike was at an inflection point around two challenges: evolving to lead in the digital world, and facing a wave of key people retiring with no succession plan in place,” Beth recalls. “We used a model to look at strengths and gaps in each of four areas: culture, structure, talent, and management systems and processes.”
The elements of this framework are presented in a diamond shape to emphasize that each of these areas is equally important to the graceful scaling of a company.
“No one’s going to be happy about having LaCroix water if they have a terrible manager,” says Beth. “So, you have to focus on the things that really matter.”
It’s a common—and dangerous—mistake to assume that culture is about perks.
“I define culture as what happens when no one is watching,” Beth explains. “What are the norms? What are the operating principles? How do people treat each other when it’s not artificially manufactured?”
While it’s easier to define and deliver culture in terms of cool office spaces, flexible schedules, and gourmet snacks, that is not what matters most to people. “Leading and managing people is a skill and a craft, and it should be treated as such,” Beth says. “These are the skills that determine whether people stay or go, which makes them the cornerstone of your financial success. We need to pay a lot more attention to them than we do.”
“Smart, talented people know their market,” Beth points out. “And they know that what they can’t get at every company is a manager who cares about them deeply as a human being, cares about helping them gain the skills and competencies that will set them up for long-term success.” That kind of management and mentorship is the foundation of a culture that really matters and makes a real difference.
“Almost any structure can work if you have the right components in terms of how you’re running the company,” Beth says. “What I focus on is making sure there are clear roles and responsibilities.”
Company structure is literally who reports to who, and it can become a major source of conflict and disharmony if it isn’t well designed and communicated. There is no single silver bullet, success depends more on having super clear definitions and eliminating areas of overlap between all the different functional roles and teams.
“When a structure isn’t working, it’s almost always because it leaves room for misunderstandings,” Beth says. “It’s very rarely because the literal structure of the org chart doesn’t make sense. It’s because someone thought they were in charge of something that actually falls into someone else’s jurisdiction and wires get crossed. Issues usually stem from a lack of clarity in communication and collaboration.”
Recruiting and acquiring talent is the area where most companies put the greatest focus, but Beth thinks of talent in broader terms. For her, it’s not just about bringing people in the door, it’s about planning long-term for how they will grow within the organization.
“You need to have people who will do the work and be stewards of the culture,” she says. “But you also need to think about how you develop talent—what you’re going to do with people once they get in the door—in a very organized and systematic way.”
Beth recommends proactively thinking about which competencies and skills your organization will need a year from now. From there, you can strategize about how to develop people internally and relationships externally to support those needs. You can think about the best ways to reach and engage traditionally underrepresented groups to make sure your organization reflects its community and members.
“The great resignation is a real thing that’s happening now, and will, I think, continue to happen,” Beth says. “Planning what you’re going to do with people in the future is critical. People who are new to the workforce place very high value on career and competency development. Yet those areas are ones that many companies overlook. Instead, they go to the easiest thing—money—which is rarely what’s driving people to stay or go.”
Management Systems & Process
“Management systems and process are all the technologies and processes around things like headcount planning and performance feedback,” Beth says. “These are the tools that provide structure and keep things from becoming chaotic.”
This part of the framework is all about making sure you can provide clear and well-defined answers to questions like:
- What is your compensation philosophy and process?
- What is your promotion process?
- What do your career ladders look like?
- What is your process for developing people?
- What is your process for managing performance?
“The absence of clarity around any of these areas can negatively impact your culture because people will assume that decisions are made ad hoc,” Beth says. “My team gets a lot of input and feedback from a broad cross-section of employees to assess how we’re doing in these areas and how they might like to see things done differently.”
As an example, Beth’s team runs an engagement survey that involves “survey champions” from every department. These champions get to see and help refine every question on the survey, and they also get to see all the data.
“You really need to do things that work for the company and for the people,” Beth says. “And this shouldn’t be just an HR process. This is for the company. This is for the people, so you must incorporate the people.”
Getting started: you don’t have to do everything at once.
While Beth’s model for scale is designed to cover all four of the key areas of concern, it’s unrealistic to think you can do all these things at once.
“It’s important for growing companies to focus and plan to address all these elements, but it’s hard to do it all at the same time,” Beth says. “Most companies will start with culture and talent, and that’s fine as long as structure and management systems and process are a close follow-on. If you don’t work on all four areas, you will wind up with a lot of smart people who are highly frustrated by the lack of clarity around what success looks like or how they collaborate; and that will deteriorate your culture over time.”
Scaling growth around people and talent is a mix of art and science, but it’s not a dark art. There’s science and structure to support a predictable way forward to success. “A great place to start is to think through the four areas and process—at a company-wide level and a functional level—strengths and gaps in each area,” Beth says. “Then, you can prioritize what needs to be improved, and turn those gaps into opportunities.”