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In my latest Financial Times column, I discuss the best decision that I have made as the CEO and founder of a startup — hiring a head of People and Culture as one of the company’s first 20 employees. I believe that your business is only as strong as the people behind it, which is why bringing on a head of HR is essential to building a sustainable and successful company.

See below for the full article and learn more about my thoughts on why a VP of People and Culture is a key competitive advantage for the 21st Century Organization. 

Millennial v. Boomer: Keeping staff happy helps keep staff

Financial Times

17 September 2015

*This article was originally featured on Financial Times.

Brynne Herbert:

The best decision I ever made was to hire a VP People and Culture (tech company-speak for head of human resources) as employee number 20.

True, this is the antithesis of today’s lean and un-bureaucratic technology company. Many of our peers do not hire an HR person until much later.

But millennial employees are making up an ever larger share of the global workforce. More than nine out of 10 of them expect to stay in a job for less than three years, according to Jeanne Meister of Future Workplace, the HR consultancy. This means it is the chief executive’s job to build a company at which they will want to stay longer.

Corporate culture is everything to us, because millennial employees are free agents with eyes and ears open for the next big thing.

Our VP People and Culture leads all of the traditional HR activities — benefits, payroll, employment contracts — but most importantly for today’s millennial employees, she also manages our company communications (across three continents) — town halls, social events, off-site meetings, learning initiatives, physical office space, morale and much more.

She is responsible for employee engagement, work-life balance — and she really thinks every day about how to create the best culture and environment for our staff.

In management consultant-speak, this is today’s competitive advantage. And an early hire in People and Culture is critical to this.

Culture starts with a chief executive, or more often at tech companies, a founder, whose personality, values and style are indelibly linked to the company they start and lead. But the head of a fast growing company is busy beyond words. Often we miss lunch, friends’ birthdays, and, were it not for excellent executive assistants, many other things.

So we need right hand people to share our vision and values and to translate them into rituals and regimens that keep our best staff engaged and sticking with us. This is the true art of building a company. And this is the true art of modern human resources.

So, yes, hiring our VP People and Culture as employee number 20 is the best decision I have made in building my company. Hands down.

Brynne Herbert, a millennial, is founder of Move Guides, a start-up that helps companies relocate staff globally.

Mrs Moneypenny:

Thirty-three years and we still do not have one; six offices and about 45 staff, and no VP of People and Culture, human resources head or talent director.

This may seem surprising — after all, we are in the talent business ourselves — but it is a deliberate strategy.

I agree with Brynne that culture starts at the top. That is why I am the VP People and Culture, rather than delegating the role. My biggest contribution to this is maintaining our no-commission strategy; everyone is paid a salary, and at the end of the year we share any profit, so we stand and fall together. This prevents a sales-led focus.

Dan Ariely, the author of Predictably Irrational, made the valid point in a Harvard Business Review article that if you don’t measure what you value, you will only end up valuing what you measure. I want to make sure that we measure what matters to our culture, and the best way of doing that is remaining in charge of all people-related decisions and initiatives.

Sure, as we grow, I can’t do it all. I have long since stopped worrying about forgetting friends’ birthdays and even wedding anniversaries, and only cook meals at the weekend.

Our next hire will be someone to work with me and share my load, but it is a finance director, not a head of HR — the latter is too precious for me to pass elsewhere.

Others support me with the processes and paperwork and we are installing a new cloud-based HR system that I (and others) can access everywhere. But I expect everyone, especially the more senior staff, to share responsibility for the people and the culture rather than handing it to one person alone.

This month, we welcomed a new employee — not number 20, more like 120 over the course of our existence. She is — rare for us — someone experienced in our industry, and has come from a large company where they definitely have an HR function.

I have explained that in our much smaller business, finding and growing the right people — for ourselves — is the only thing that matters. And that this is as much her responsibility as mine.

Maybe this is a generational thing, but I think it is too important to be left to one person. To misquote Richard Nixon (and several others): “We are all VPs of People and Culture now’.”

Mrs Moneypenny is a boomer and owns and runs an executive search company.

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