This post is part of our Super Operators series. In this post, we profile Sehr Charania, former VP of People at Workrise and Head of People at ipsy. We share her story, her learnings from scaling, and share her Remote Employee Onboarding Playbook at the end.
Introduction and background
Sehr Charania already knew a lot about fast-growing companies before she got to Silicon Valley. The Brown University alum started her career as a founder, having started Potentia Energy in Texas. Within 5 years the company was listed as the fastest-growing company in Houston and a few years later was acquired by the publicly-listed Spark Energy (SPKE). “The entire journey from idea to sale was incredible, but as I thought about my next steps all I knew was I wasn’t done learning and wanted to try something drastically different”.
She soon found herself moving to San Francisco, exploring roles with technology companies, and serendipitously found herself interviewing for a Head of People role at ipsy. “I hadn’t considered being a People leader before, but when I talked to the founders [of ipsy], I knew they were the type of leaders I wanted to learn from. And they really valued my previous experience because I’d bring a fresh and strategic perspective to the role”. As the first Head of People at ipsy, she scaled the company from 75 employees to over 200, and during her tenure, they raised over $100M and grew to over 2M customers. “I was responsible for building all the foundational people programs: recruiting, onboarding, compensation, job leveling, etc. And my framework for each program was to align our People strategy to the business strategy”.
After spending a few years building out the foundation at ipsy, she was ready for a new challenge and joined Workrise, formerly known as RigUp, as their VP of People. She knew the business was growing fast, but the next two years vastly exceeded her expectations. “I started when we were around 50 employees and by the time I left we were close to 500. We essentially doubled headcount every 6 months”. After close to 2 years of hypergrowth at Workrise, Charania was ready to take a break. Equipped with the knowledge and experience of building People programs from scratch as well as the battle scars of hyper-growth, she currently works with other startups as their Interim Chief People Officer, setting up their People foundations until they are ready to bring on a full-time Head of People.
What’s the most important area that companies should get right while growing really fast?
“The first thing hypergrowth organizations need to focus on is building a recruiting engine that enables them to scale.” However, companies shouldn’t rest on their laurels, Charania believes the recruiting infrastructure that got them there won’t get them to the next level. “Hypergrowth requires a slightly different recruiting muscle than linearly scaling organizations. If you are relying on ad hoc processes, you will either miss recruiting targets, or make poor hiring decisions, or both.” She says there are several areas companies need to focus on to build their recruiting infrastructure:
- Consistent recruiting process across candidates. “If your interview process is constantly deviating across candidates or depending on the hiring manager, you don’t get the best read on candidates and waste a lot of time and resources on recruiting.” She shares a basic recruiting overview below that any company can follow:
- First screen with the recruiter: gather candidate info, start selling the candidate, and get a basic read on candidate experience to qualify them for additional interviews
- A second screen with the hiring manager: dig in to see if they’d be a good fit for the role
- Final “on-site” interview with a few key stakeholders: deep dive with multiple perspectives
- Set up your systems & data: “start using your ATS to get visibility and data on your process and help enforce consistency”. She recommends using it to do the following:
- Use it to schedule all interviews and tag the right interviewers
- Make sure everyone is putting their feedback notes in the ATS and only review candidates as a team once that’s done. This also helps remove bias in the process
- Get recruiting metrics from your systems to inform your process and calibrate your interview criteria as you learn from the first few interviews
- Develop your recruiting hygiene: “in startups, people are thrown into the deep end without much training and they are expected to sink or swim. It’s risky to do that with recruiting since these decisions have long-term downstream impacts. An investment here may feel like you’re slowing down in the short-term but ultimately pay off in the long-term.” She recommends every company do the following:
- Do a lightweight interview training with all interviewers which covers the basics:
- Interviewer expectations and responsibilities
- How to ask good interview questions
- Interview questions to avoid
- Unconscious bias
- Figure out what you’re looking for and then screen for that.
- What skills are you looking for?
- What values are important?
- Use these to build out a scorecard which also helps mitigate biases
- Do a lightweight interview training with all interviewers which covers the basics:
- Be aware of the common traps and try to avoid them. “The most common thing I see is that hiring managers think about the problem they need solved and less so about who is going to solve it well. Hiring quickly and at scale requires hiring managers to be specific and realistic about the type of candidate they’re looking for.” The next thing she sees is the evolution of the Talent Acquisition (TA) function from being led by hiring managers to being led by a formal TA team. “For recruiting machinery to be successful, hiring managers need to give away some of their Legos. They’re still responsible for team building and ensuring they make the right hires, but there needs to be a stronger partnership between them and TA”. The last piece of advice she shared was that you need to always be selling: “It’s a really competitive labor market right now, and the best candidates are in high demand so it’s as much of a selling conversation as it is an interview. It’s important to know why your company is an attractive employer (we call it an Employer Value Proposition) and why you may be a good fit for a particular candidate”.
Are the other People programs that companies need to focus on while scaling their headcount?
“When you start scaling quickly, one of the first things to break is employee onboarding. Without a formal onboarding program, your new team members may feel like they don’t have appropriate context to do their jobs well and they may feel disengaged which could lead to attrition and poor performance.“ Charania’s advice is that your employee onboarding program should span multiple days and cover “both the logistical aspects of joining a new organization (hello IT training!), but also should introduce your new team member to people in the organization, get them acquainted with organizational norms, and help them feel oriented and welcomed.” The key questions to answer are:
- Who will participate in it
- What content do you want to cover
- Who will keep the operational pieces on track (sending out emails, scheduling events, etc)
- How to get your culture and norms to shine through
In addition to employee onboarding, Charania says the other People programs and processes that organizations should tackle include: Job leveling & compensation, Performance Development & Engagement. “These programs drive visibility and clarity across the organization. When you scale quickly, having one-off conversations and managing by exception will break quickly and lead to an inequitable structure.”
Who are the key hires for the People team at this stage?
“While most companies know to invest in talent acquisition and people ops, however, I recommend that when you’re scaling quickly, it’s smart to bring on a People Business Partner early to help drive the key programs and conversations”. She also believes there’s a lot of augmentation companies should do for their early teams: “Automate as much as you and ensure your systems can handle the type of data you need to be a data-driven People function”.
What mistake do you see hypergrowth companies making and how can they avoid it?
“The mistake I often see is not developing a strong leadership bench. When you’re growing quickly, ICs often get promoted to management positions since they are strong performers in their individual roles. At scale, this can begin to break down. Training managers and supplementing the management bench with external hires can help fortify this group.”
"Here is my playbook for a simple but effective way to onboard new team members. I focus on three main themes in this playbook: context, community, and inclusion. I’ve used versions of this onboarding playbook at various in-house and interim roles and had an employee NPS of 80+ for these programs. I do recommend each company customize my playbook so it's consistent with their culture, and if you need help with that or want to learn about my other People playbooks, feel free to reach out at [email protected]".