Picture this: It’s Q1. The holiday season just ended. Employees are filing back from vacation. You sit down for the first company alignment meeting of the new year, and the CEO of your company reveals that they want to double hiring this year.
To a talent acquisition team, that’s a stressful suggestion. A massive spurt of new hires thanks to a booming business is called “hypergrowth,” and it's something that People expert Michael Brown has experienced from working for startups.
“Startups tend to lock their budgets by March of the year you’re in,” he explains, “the talent acquisition team is always behind on that front.”
Research from Visier suggests that 44% of executives drive their workforce plans through finance without taking talent dynamics into account. So how can your TA team get ahead? Check out the video and read the transcript below to gather some nuggets of wisdom from the recently appointed Head of People at Meter.
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What is ‘hypergrowth?’ (2:15)
Michael Brown is an innovative TA leader, apparent as soon as he answers the first question. “There are real definitions of hypergrowth, but I’m going to give my own definition today.”
Harvard Business Review famously coined the term in a 2008 article, calling it “the steep part of the S-curve that most young markets and industries experience at some point, where the winners get sorted from the losers.” But to Michael, it’s more than just a growth curve.
“When hypergrowth kicks in, it’s when the plan that you had in place no longer works because you’ve grown so fast and furiously that things are breaking left and right,” he says. “When you get to that place, you’re doing 2x, 3x, and sometimes 4x company size in a year.” While HR and TA teams occasionally get to preview that growth, in most cases they have to roll with the punches of a rapidly-growing startup.”
There’s a lot of chaos in being a hypergrowth company. How do you prioritize? (3:54)
Michael focuses on three areas to ensure successful hypergrowth:
1. Uplift the HR and TA teams
Michael recognizes that HR and TA teams are often put in the backseat; a last priority group to pour resources into. “In this case, I’ve always thought that it’s best to treat them just like everyone else in the company that gets opportunities for development, learning, and growth.”
2. Build strong relationships
“Relationships become a really critical component,” he says. “If you’re trying to get something done, create harmony in a particular process, or persuade someone to help you do something or make a decision, having strong relationships is the name of the game.”
3. Lead with heart, back with data
The “secret sauce,” as Michael refers to it, is leading with empathy in all situations, especially in hypergrowth. “I didn’t always think like this,” he admits, “I used to be really focused on data-driven approaches.”
All three of Michael’s pillars are employee-centric. If your employees are happy, connected, and excited, they will perform well, whether in normal growth or hypergrowth. In fact, 77% of employees believe that a strong culture allows them to perform best, according to a study by Eagle Hill Consulting.
How do you build your recruiting team? When do you build in management layers to scale the team? (6:54)
“You’ve got to be intentional about how to structure the team,” Michael urges. There are many factors that can shape how you structure, such as team size, scalability, hiring plan, number of upcoming hires, and more.
Since Michael has mostly worked in tech, that means he often needs specific recruiting roles who can grow outside their initial function. “Technical recruiters that have the ability to flex to do other types of roles in the business as well become pretty important and valuable to an organization.”
He lays out the ideal scenario: “If you can find individuals that are interested in growing a function, have some management capacity, but are [also] willing to be a hands-on recruiter and scale with the company… that is a great opportunity to make sure that one, you’re filling roles, but two, you’re getting a great manager.”
But what if instead of growing a manager, you need one now? Michael admits that once you inch towards having 10 recruiters, it's time to build a management layer. “Probably in that point in time, if not earlier, [start] to diversify the functions on the recruiting team.”
Michael acknowledges that most of the time, it comes down to what your organization does. “Think about technical function, think about your general business function, then think about what supports all that, [such as] the operational teams that really help to scale the rest of the talent acquisition function.”
Once you nail that down, you can work on metrics to measure your successes and needs. For example, in the early days of a company, you might not have any data to go off of. “You just use general industry benchmarks. But as time goes on you can get really smart with it.” Michael goes on “you can run regression models and actually predict out how your hiring would be based on trends and dips in the market and the various timetables in the year as well”.
Did your technical recruiters maintain a full desk, or do they focus on different parts of the funnel? (11:29)
There are many different ways to tackle sourcing, and at every previous role Michael has tweaked the formula slightly. “At [my previous employer] Toast for instance, we’d bring in sourcers from time to time. We also used some third-party sourcing teams that would hand pretty massive lists of pre-qualified leads to full-desk recruiters.”
However, Michael thinks it's ideal to hire recruiters that think like sourcers in case access to third-party resources is ever exhausted because of budget.
Once they got going at Toast, Michael built out a dedicated sourcing team, which was divided up by business function. They also brought in contracted sourcing teams for additional help depending on hiring volume.
Did you hold people accountable to numbers? (13:12)
True to his management style, Michael holds people accountable to certain number goals, but also leaves room for personal development goals.
“What I’ve run is an MBO (management by objectives) or an OKR (objectives and key results) style structure where people are accountable to their capacity model number, which tends to be their monthly or quarterly goal. I always make sure that there’s a personal development opportunity in those goals as well. I really want people to focus on advancing themselves as well as their business.”
In the end, it’s about getting the best out of your team without stressing them out with a strict, quota-or-bust mindset.
How do you augment what you’re doing by using tools? (14:38)
“The ATS is the heart and soul,” Michael says. “That’s where you should double down and make sure you have sound, expandable technology.” However, having a streamlined tech stack is just as important. “Hopefully you have open APIs so you can start to connect your tech stack together.”
Another important piece is automation and artificial intelligence, which can easily assist with top-of-funnel functions that take up a lot of your TA team’s time.
Despite that, Michael warns to not get too sucked into all the flashy tools out there. “I try to think a lot about the cost-benefit analysis of a piece of technology in place of something manual or the human touch.” It completely depends on your company and what stage of growth you’re in. “Where do you have a hole in your current game that maybe a piece of technology could solve versus hiring another person?” he asks.
What pro tips do you have about hypergrowth? (19:52)
Time and time again, Michael emphasizes the importance of planning ahead and aligning with your business model. “Begin to build as if you’re building for 6 months out or 12 months out or 5 years out if your company will allow for it so that you can really be prepared.”
He lays out a nightmare scenario: “I see it all the time. There’s companies where they throw out these massive hiring plans and they front load everything into the first quarter of the year and they have one recruiter! You have to think realistically and work with the business to determine priority.”
Another piece of advice Michael gives comes from an exit interview he received with a previous employer. The CEO told him to “ask why, ask why again, and keep asking why.” Michael sees it as: “The more you ask, the more valuable you become, and the more strategic you are in helping these business leaders think through their hiring problems.”
When do you start hiring specialist TA roles? (23:49)
In Michael’s experience, you want to start thinking about operational functions when you have around 15-20 people. But you can focus on things such as the employer brand even before specializing in roles. By turning your recruiting function into an inbound talent attraction model, your cost will be lower than having to go to an outbound recruitment marketing agency.
He also recommends campus utilizing campus programs. “You can create an incoming funnel of fresh grads or early career-minded folks that can help reduce cost and start bringing in a whole slew of diversity.”
Another place to specialize is analyzing your systems to get the most output. In hypergrowth, it’s likely that your digital workflows will start to break once you use the applications enough. “[Get] somebody that’s an analyst to think about how your data is flowing, how you’re locking various functions in your ATS, or how you’re utilizing some of the latest features... if you’re having a ton of recruiters working on that, you’re taking their focus away from being really great recruiters.”
You’ll likely want to specialize for candidate experience as well, but Mike hits home again by pointing out that “[once] you get to that magic number of 7 to 10, start to think about bringing on a manager or putting in a team lead structure... to add some layers of management.”
How do you think about diversity recruiting when high growth is on the top of everybody’s mind? (27:43)
While the tech industry has spearheaded the movement, Michael doesn’t think there’s a great answer to diversity hiring quite yet. It’s only just begun to get heated in the corporate world.
“Being a part of these tech companies, I personally love these opportunities to get involved and learn and grow,” he says. “There’s a real opportunity for the talent acquisition teams to create partnership [and] hold the company accountable to structured interview processes where you can hopefully remove bias.”
Michael sums it up by saying that the more thoughtful you can build your approaches, the better. “There are times when certain companies will break or bend for speed purposes,” he notes. But he also urges companies to be okay with slowing down in favor of being intentional with their hiring practices.
Michael has seen both strict and loose initiatives. “In the early days of [DEI initiatives], I have seen a clear directive to hire more female engineers into particular teams. Not a bad thing! People just need to be honest with who they are, be honest with the teams they have currently, and try to hold themselves accountable.”
His recommendation is to be data-forward with DEI initiatives. “We tend to collect through the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)... we at least get to see where people are coming from and their general demographics so we can be more direct when we source in the future.”
In short, most things that contribute to a healthy TA function in general are good for diversity hiring. Be thoughtful about who is on interview panels. Have a strong structure. Be thoughtful about where you are sourcing. Have the right ways to evaluate candidates.
“TA sometimes gets a bad rap on the diversity front,” Michael combats. Oftentimes, TA is blamed for not making the company more diverse. “But at the end of the day, a good TA program is already doing all these things, and they’ve been doing it forever.”
How do you get the rest of your org to help out when scaling? (32:10)
“At [my previous employer] Toast, we had gone through a round of funding and added a midyear hiring plan to the mix,” Michael remembers. “[We] bolstered about 100-plus engineers. It was probably pretty unrealistic to think any of us could accomplish that.”
So his TA team got creative. They trained other business functions as recruiters, teaching them to use the ATS properly, administer interviews, and give offers. “The TA monitored a lot of the progress to make sure candidates wouldn’t get stale… and it actually worked quite well.”
He admits that much of scaling relies on trust within the company, which comes with building partnership across teams. Michael himself says that your TA team must “show the business that you can ‘GSD’ [get stuff done] just like they can.” His advice is to celebrate your wins publicly so the whole org knows that your TA functions are successful.
It all comes down to relationships
In everything Michael Brown does, building relationships and trust across the company are his number one priority.
“There [are] a lot of recruiters out there that just want to fill roles,” he says. “Those are the people that end up hurting the reputation of TA teams.” He pushes hiring managers to be partners and understand the importance of the hire.
He finds that startups are great places to fully understand the impact of recruiting. At a previous role, Michael’s office was right next to where the UX, UI, and engineering teams worked. “I saw the pain on their face when we couldn’t fill roles. I knew the late nights they had to pull when we couldn’t fill certain things.”
In those moments, it clicks for both sides that talent acquisition is important to company success, and that’s where you begin to foster partnership.
About Michael Brown
Michael Brown is the Head of People at Meter. He has over 10 years of TA leadership experience. As of December 2020, he and his wife had their third child. At the time of the interview, he was happy to report that little Cameron was doing all the things that babies are supposed to do: eat, sleep, and poop.
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