start-up company

Do Start-Ups Need a HRMS?

We don’t need human resources! Structure is the death of good culture!

I’m hearing this a lot lately. Particularly from  organisations in start-up stages in the tech space. Whilst these organisations are in the early stages of their evolution, they already have a large number of staff (around 250 or over) and  they do care about their people.

What I’m hearing is that Human Resources (HR) as a function has a bad wrap.  Start up CEOs say HR is not relevant because their  values and culture direct ways of working. 

How could leaders who care about their people also view human resources as irrelevant for their business? I know! This seems contradictory!

I think the problem is that many of these leaders experienced human resources in other corporate settings as a blunt tool of management rather than as a framework for empowering and engaging staff. Newer, flatter start-up cultures value empowerment, collaboration and common sense over compliance to standardised processes.  

If not addressed in early stages, the lack of structure in start-up organisations  can lead to significant people issues down the track. During growth stages, people and performance issues need more structure to guide the work, define job roles, and ensure a sense of fairness and equity across the organisation.

The informality of the start-up stage gives way to processes that can be repeated at scale without losing those characteristics that motivate people to go above and beyond for the organisation.

A Human Resource Management System (HRMS) links people functions with your company strategy to improve and increase performance and impact. And it does not mean death to your culture.

A Human Centred Design Approach to Human Resources

Adopting a human centred approach to human resources can balance the need for structure and the need for culture aligned to start-up values .  Human Centred design (HCD) is aligned to the ISO standard 9241-210:2019 Ergonomics of human-system interaction — Part 210: Human-centred design for interactive systems.

HCD develops solutions to organisational problems by involving the user/participant perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process. This involves  observing the problem within context, and brainstorming, conceptualising, developing, and implementing the solution, with the involvement of, and a focus on employee and customer needs and perspectives.

This approach can be applied to key inputs to the establishment of HR frameworks for organisations and their implementation plans.  Using a participatory and human centred design approach to co-create your HRMS ensures the HR model adopted and its subsquent processes are fit for purpose for the organisation’s strategy, and fit for values, ensuring that HR processes enable rather than disable strong culture.

Project Stages


Project stages involve working with the leadership team to establish the HRMS model and then utilising human centred design methods to involve all staff in the co-creation of processes.

This begins with asking your staff about what they value and what helps them thrive at work, as well as what gets in the way. Then importantly, we can back that up by establishing feedback loops to test model assumptions and gain feedback on process design elements as they are being established, and in maintenance and reinforcement stages during implementation.

Once the HRMS system is established the leadership team enacts a plan to implement new HR processes and evaluate their impact on an ongoing basis ensuring continued alignment with your culture. The HRMS then specifically focuses on the elements that are most critical to providing the conditions that enable supporting all staff to be successful.

These are the outcomes start-ups can expect from the implementation of a human centred HRMS:

  • Greater consistency and predictability for your people, including team leaders.
  • Formalisation of the principles in your Manifesto.
  • Ability to track outcomes related to key productivity and people empowerment goals.
  • Increased productivity and performance of staff and leaders .
  • Increased client and team member satisfaction and engagement.
  • New level of organisational maturity.
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