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Stage-Appropriate People Agenda: Addressing People Topics at the Right Time

As a startup people leader, it is common to be pulled in many different directions as the team grows. Let's face it, building a high-performing team is easier said than done. You need to attract and retain top talent, develop your team's skills and abilities, build a culture that aligns with your company's values and goals, and prevent burnout and stress from sabotaging your team's performance. Not to mention, you're constantly dealing with the unpredictable twists and turns of the business world.

Finding priorities and focus can take a toll on any people leader. In fact, recent statistics show over 80% of people professionals are at risk of burnout and many have had to take breaks in their careers due to the sometimes overwhelming nature of this position.

What’s the secret to success?

It all starts with the right people agenda that matches your company's stage of growth. In order to effectively address these ever-evolving challenges, it is important for people leaders to recognize and address specific people topics at the right time.

That’s why we’ve gathered insights from 12 successful people leaders who know what it takes to thrive at each stage of the game.

We divided companies into three stages based on the number of employees: stage 1 (15-50 employees), stage 2 (50-150 employees), and stage 3 (150+ employees). We then asked the respondents to choose the topics they believed should be prioritized at each stage. For the purpose of this survey, we focused on all People topics but excluded talent and recruiting, which we will focus on in one of our next articles.

The results of the survey provide valuable insights into the common challenges and opportunities faced by people leaders across different stages of company growth. While there were some variations in the responses, there were also several areas of agreement that can serve as a foundation for building an effective people agenda.

One common truth that emerged, not surprisingly, is the critical importance of company culture. Your mission, vision, values, and behaviors are the foundation of your team's identity and motivation and most of our respondents agree that these topics remain central at each stage of growth. But what about other topics, such as mental health/burnout prevention, leadership development, fractional HR, and compensation? Opinions vary, so let's dive into each stage's appropriate people agenda.

Core Stage (15-50 employees): Culture takes gold 🥇

Setting up cultural foundations is often a core topic in the early stage of a company, while formalizing career development and progression becomes more central once the team hits a later stage of growth. Additionally, developing leaders is another important aspect that requires a lot of attention and resources. By doing so, organizations can ensure that they are well-equipped to handle the demands of an expanding business.

At this stage, the company is focused on building its foundation and establishing its culture. The top people topics for this stage are usually recruiting, onboarding, and culture-building. Recruiting is critical to finding the right people to join the team and contribute to the company's growth. Onboarding is essential to ensure new hires understand the company's culture and values, and they have the tools they need to be productive. Culture-building is crucial to establishing the company's values and beliefs and creating a work environment that attracts and retains top talent.

A graph on important people topics for companies below 50 employees
Expert picks for stage 1 People Agenda

Notably, for most of the surveyed people experts, culture, leadership development and mental health take a clear top spot in this stage’s priority list.

Nico Blier-Silvestri, Partner at Dreamcraft VC and former CPO of Revolut explains his top picks:

At the early stage, companies should focus on Culture, employee stock options (aka. ESOP), DEI, and burnout prevention. These pillars are relatively easy to put in place and can be done with a limited budget as long as the leadership actually cares for them. I believe these are the core concept and should be mandatory action points for any org.

When we’re looking at how to choose our topics and where to start, Hannah Marks, People + Talent Advisor and Employee Experience at Discord, has a clear method for prioritizing early-stage core initiatives:

Culture is king and should be intentionally fostered at the earliest stages (and beyond!). Your People agenda can then be developed based on your established values and behaviors. Are you a company that values well-being? Great! Then you should build out wellness and mental health resources from the start!

Alistair Fraser, founder of, shares the importance of a core early-stage pillar that when set up right, can save companies a lot of time and worry down the line:

Compensation is one thing that you need to get right from Day One. Little transparency around pay can lead to a lot of frustration and confusion from managers and employees alike. CEOs have better things to be worrying about and not wasting time handling one-off compensation requests or new hire offers.

Among interesting outlier picks, Hannah Neuser, Ph.D. and former Head of People at Archlet, includes change management as early as this stage and explains:

One may think that change management is something that comes in later when established processes are changed/improved on, but for many early joiners, the shift from no structures and processes at all to then slowly building processes can feel threatening and will require a change management approach if you don't want to lose them.

Growth Stage (50-150 employees): Time for structure 🗂️

At this stage, the company is expanding, and the focus might shift to developing leaders, improving employee engagement, and ensuring a path to consistency and growth. Developing leaders is essential to ensure the company has the talent it needs to continue to grow and succeed. Improving employee engagement is critical to creating a positive work environment that fosters innovation and productivity. Implementing performance management is necessary to provide feedback to employees and ensure they are aligned with company goals.

A graph listing the important topics for companies between 50 and 150 employees
Expert picks for stage 2 People Agenda

Consistency and Organisational Planning are especially important to Jabu Dayton, the first Head of People at Airbnb. Choosing it as one of her top picks for the Growth Stage, she shares:

I added Organizational Planning […] because I find the additional clarity on the role is critical at this pivotal stage. You will now have a sense of your strongest leaders and performers and can promote and build teams around them. These are also the people you are most wanting to retain so the continued clarity on org and career progression planning is critical. Goals at this stage are a combination of short and long-term impacts, people need to feel that they have a future with this company so Org Planning is key.

This stage is identified as pivotal by most people leaders. Also one of the most challenging, as Agnes Chauvigny, Head of People at Figures explains:

Many things are changing when you pass the 100 employees bar - depending on the growth speed it can be a very intense period, bringing changes, frustrations, and differing expectations from employers and employees - it's time to both maintain what's been built and think forward to prepare for further growth.

Scale-up Stage (150+ employees): Continued development 🎓

At this stage, the company is becoming a more established organization, and the focus shifts to succession planning, Leadership development, and diversity and inclusion. Succession planning is necessary to ensure the company has a pipeline of leaders who can step up when needed. Leadership development is critical to ensure employees have the skills they need to continue to grow and contribute to the company's success. Diversity and inclusion are essential to creating a work environment that values different perspectives and experiences and fosters innovation and creativity.

A graph listing the important people topics for companies above 150 employees
Expert picks for stage 3 People Agenda

Rachel Baskerville, Head of People at Cube Software, recommends putting some more work into career development at this stage. She adds:

Getting above 150 means you've done a lot of work already to get yourself here, but now it's time to build for even more scale and consistency. Clear and developed career progression frameworks and manager/leadership development will be essential for companies of this size to thrive.

At the same time, maturing doesn’t mean becoming inflexible. As Keil Stewart, VP People at Frontify notes:

As your organization grows and evolves, it's crucial for your leaders and HR team to remain mindful of the company's progress. Venturing into new markets or regions can introduce fresh challenges, including shifts in expectations, culture, and values. Moreover, you might require diverse skill sets for different parts of your journey, which can be acquired through various means. While all the topics mentioned are essential, some may only become relevant due to changes in business direction or events.

Next: build your own people agenda 💪🏼

The patterns highlighted by our respondents suggest that there are some common themes and priorities that People leaders should focus on as their companies grow and evolve. However, it's important to remember that every company is unique and may face different challenges and opportunities along the way. As a People leader, it's important to stay attuned to the needs of your team and company as a whole and to be willing to adapt your people agenda as necessary to support transformation and growth.

As a starting point, take a look at the top priorities identified for your company's stage and consider how you can incorporate these topics into your overall strategy. Don't be afraid to seek out additional resources and support, whether it's through industry associations, networking with other people leaders, or partnering with HR consultants or experts.

By focusing on the right priorities and staying attuned to the needs of your employees, you can help your company build a strong foundation for success and transformation in the years to come.

What are the topics you believe are important to focus on? Let us know in the comments!


This article was written in collaboration with Tamas from EquityPeople - Employee equity plans, built by experts, created for scale.


Looking for specialists to help carry out the building and developing blocks of your people agenda? Get in touch or sign up for the newsletter to receive our next articles on consulting top picks.

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1 comentário

11 de mai. de 2023

Awesome content Sara! Really enjoyed supporting you on this 🙂

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