Xero is growing quickly in the UK. After operating as a start-up with people working from home and carrying out a whole range of activities to grow the business, we’re now an SME in our own right and part of a global organisation with astronomic aspiration and potential.
In common with many new, fast-growing companies there are some big challenges that we face in the HR team. How best to hire the right people? How can we retain our core talent? What are the best HR systems and processes to deliver on our business strategy?
Of the many potential issues and opportunities, keeping our employees engaged is one of the most important.
In the first of an ongoing series exploring these HR challenges, we’re going to look at the problem of keeping the natural energy, engagement and positive culture of a start-up alive as the business grows and takes on new people.
Going on the HR journey together
First off, an admission. I’m new too – I’ve not yet been in the role three months, so this is a journey that the business and I are going on together. I’ve joined Xero UK at an incredibly exciting time in its development. We’re growing fast and, as the UK’s HR Manager, I’m going to be involved in hiring a lot of new ‘Xero Heroes’ over the next few months. It’s a brilliant opportunity, both for me and anyone else who’s recently joined or who is about to join the team.
All for one…
The team here is totally committed to growing Xero and it’s impossible not to get caught up in their enthusiasm. This feeling of all being ‘in it together’ and really making a difference is underlined by our company share scheme. It’s great to be part of the Xero phenomenon and providing shares to our employees is a fantastic way of rewarding and motivating them. As an HR professional, it’s marvellous to be able to draw on this natural energy and engagement – things that are often in short supply or need stimulating (artificially) in larger or more established organisations. It’s much easier to keep engagement levels high when there are five people in a company but how about when there are 50? How about when there are 500? Your mission…should you choose to accept it!
On the M25 motorway there used to be some fence panels graffitied with ‘Why do I do this every day?’ – a great existential question for commuters making their way into London.
Why indeed? Once an organisation reaches a certain size, HR is usually given the task of maintaining and managing high levels of employee engagement and providing meaning for the day-to-day activities with which everyone is involved. This can be hard to do when the organisation’s answer to the question ‘Why are we doing this?’ isn’t 100 percent clear, is overly contrived, or has got lost in organisational conventions, or long, super-complex board reports. When the answer a new employee gets is, ‘Because we always have…’ he or she is bound to experience at least a degree of disengagement from the organisation and the importance of a personal contribution. So, maintaining a clear business philosophy and supporting the brand’s internal culture are going to be vital components of Xero UK’s people strategy.
Our UK business is growing at a phenomenal rate – and that brings with it some very specific challenges. One of the core challenges will be maintaining our initial sense of engagement, purpose and fun (let’s not forget that!) in the longer term. There’s a danger of people burning out as they try to cope with new systems, new people and new strategies – while also dealing with a business that’s expanding every day.
Expansion, growth and development
In my next blog I’ll take a look at some of the other HR challenges of running a fast-growth business. But for now I’m going to sign off with a positive message: in the last year Xero UK has grown hugely and we now have a team of over 50 committed and talented people working out of our Milton Keynes and London offices. That’s amazing growth by any standards, and we’re continuing to expand and hire new people almost every week. If you’d like to join the team, check out our current openings.
So, as you can see, I’m going to have my hands full driving our HR function forward in 2014. But I’m really excited to be leading our HR and talent initiatives for the UK and I’ll be keeping you up to date with our progress over the coming months.
Anne Allen is based in our Milton Keynes office and leads the HR function for Xero UK.