Why even a small startup needs People Operations

This post was written in Korean July 2018. Here is LINK to the original post.

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It has been 8 months since I started my job at CLOSER (at the time I wrote this article in Korean). When I was asked to join the team and told my old co-workers that I am starting as a people operations manager, some people asked, “why is the people operations manager needed when there are only 8 people?” At that point, I was not sure about what I am going to and should do so I couldn’t answer to that question. But now, I have the courage to say that we need to think a lot about the way to build the better team with even 8 people.

When I first started my job at CLOSER, I pondered a lot. Even though I joined to make the better team, I didn’t know where to start. I had started the job after spending 2 years as a marketer, I had only 2 years of work experience, and nobody was there to teach me.

So I started to listen to what my team members say about our team: what the problems of our team are, what they want from the company, and how they want to build their careers.

We had some communication issues, individual career issues, and policy issues. As we were focusing on “what we have to do right now,” we didn’t know and couldn’t do “what we want to do.” People were not motivated as we were always pressed for time. Also, since our team was (and still is) in the early stage, we didn’t have any rules and policies.

I am having 1-on-1s with all members monthly so that I can understand and keep track of their status and emotions. I am trying different methods for more open and clearer communication. As CEO and tech-lead kept cutting off each other’s and other members’ word, we tried not cutting off others’ word in one of the meetings about the product. I explained the purpose of the meeting and reminded them not to cut off words before the meeting. It was successful. After a few more meetings, people actually listen to what others say and respond to that. Once, we spent a day for the individual project to support an individual’s interest and creativity, and it was successful.

Since I couldn’t see whether what I do has an immediate impact on the team, I had little faith in my achievements. I was not sure I was doing right, or what I do was helping our team. However, I received a feedback from other members at the workshop we did in June and became little more confident to write about my job.

I prepared for the session that each member gives feedback to others and these are what I got. “After I joined this team, I realized that communication and good company culture are important and that can be improved.” “I can trust her and she gave us psychological safety as she enabled us to talk about what we want and actually made the team better.” “Having 1-on-1s with her, I improved on my communication skills and started to think more about my career growth.” “She has the power to motivate the team and bring the team into one.” “I have good hopes on what she will do next.” After I got these feedbacks, I could be certain that caring and concerns about team members are essential for their psychological safety.

As I experienced and heard from others, complaints are inevitable even on small startups. Employers and employees have different thoughts and it is hard to narrow the gap between those two. Some of the employees don’t even have a chance to say their opinions, and some just stop talking and leave because employers never change.

Since we have only 8 members in our team, I am trying to pay attention to what members say and trying things to make the team better. It has only been 7 months since I started and I have a long way to go but I want to build the team that people can grow and work happily as we try and grow step by step.