The Story of The Baker

A story we often tell when we get asked what Project House is all about, is one about a Baker who loves to bake pies.  We’ll call him The Baker.  The Baker made pies all of the time.  His pies were well-loved by his family, who demanded pies for every conceivable occasion.  His pies were delicious and better than anything available in a shop.  Over time,  The Baker started making pies for his kids’ fundraising events, for his friends and their friends, and before he knew it, his pies were in such high demand that he had a business on his hands and he needed to hire some helpers and find a community kitchen space several days a week just to keep up with the orders.

 

Fast forward a few years and The Baker is in a bit of a pickle. His business has grown exponentially, which is wonderful, and he is proud of his success.  He has long outgrown his space, and he now needs a commercial sized kitchen with a huge warehouse space for manufacturing, storage, and delivery. He has a huge team, his online sales are growing, and his customers and family are suggesting that he open up a small storefront with a café. The Baker is feeling overwhelmed.  He needs a new website because the one his niece built for him originally, while lovely, does not give him the flexibility that he needs for his online sales business.  His logo could use a refresh as the pies are now shipping across the country and he really needs a more polished brand.  He is having some issues with a few of his employees, and he doesn’t know how to uncover the problems.  He suspects that he may need additional managers, and would really like to promote and train some of his current staff. He is doing his payroll manually and it’s giving him night sweats. He never had any formal training in anything to do with running a business, and as his company grows, he is feeling pulled in a million different directions.  He needs help in a variety of areas, but he doesn’t know where to start or who to reach out to for help.

 

Enter Project House…and we can help with all of The Baker’s headaches.  He doesn’t need to call multiple companies or consultants to come in and work in silos in all of these challenging areas, because Project House is a one-stop solution. We can work with The Baker to discover all of his many pain points, prioritize them, and break them into bite-sized pieces.  The Baker will have an achievable plan to work through all of his various business areas in a strategic and holistic way that will fit his needs and his budget. At Project House our goal is to help improve and align The Baker’s business, find efficiencies wherever possible, and leave things better and easier, so he can spend time on the right things and enjoy his work! 

 

Does The Baker’s story sound familiar to you?  We would love for you to get in touch with us to see how we can help!

We Love Being Part of Your Team

Last year, one of our clients went through a significant leadership change. We had enjoyed a great relationship with this client, and we felt trusted and effective, providing strategic and operational support regularly and easily. When our primary senior contact informed us he was leaving the organization, we wondered if our work with this client would continue, or if the new leader would be looking to make their mark by handling these pieces differently. We focused on ensuring a smooth transition from one leader to another, making ourselves available to bridge processes and systems, and support continuity.

After this initial transition period, once the new leader had an opportunity to assess their own goals and priorities and set their own tone with the team, he reached out to us. Happily we were asked to step even further into the organization, to spend more time 1:1 with employees, and to make ourselves known and trusted members of the team.

Months later, we are still spending regular time in this client’s office, dipping in more often when there’s a big project to deliver.  We are able to support them in a way that is effective and positive for us as well as the team, sharing our expertise and learning from each other.  When a challenge looms, we can head it off at the pass, or lend our extra muscle in the moment, before it gets too big to handle neatly.  We can help support and nurture the team culture as it evolves.

When this client grows to a size where they need to hire full-time employees to take over some of our services, we may shift into a more traditional consulting role where we lend a hand occasionally in areas where we can add value.  It will be great at that stage to already know and understand the business and to have developed trust with the team.  We will be able to provide training and support, and know that we’ve made a positive impact on the business at its various stages.

We love getting calls from clients who have a big challenge that needs tackling.  By giving us an opportunity to work closely with your team early on, we can help you mitigate risk and solve small problems before they escalate.  We can get to know your employees at every level and we can see your culture in action We can share our skills and experience, earn your trust, and become a valuable member of your organization.  All without breaking the bank or working more than you need.

What sets us apart: Combined Creative Services

Illustration by Jeremy Enecio for Fortune

One of the most unique and exciting aspects of our company is that we can combine our services in order to expand our offeringsWe love innovating within our projects to discover creative solutions that integrate HR, Design, and Web.

Many businesses have an ongoing and serious challenge to hire senior staff with hard-to-find skills, as industry competition for candidate attention can be intense.  In tech, this type of employee is often referred to as a unicorn.  “…unicorn: …staff who possess a unique set of qualities that make them extremely rare and valuable. They’re hard to find, but once hired, they offer up enormous benefits in the workplace and can take your business to the next level”. (Ryan Holmes | October 5, 2016, Financial Post)

Traditional HR solutions for this problem can include setting up recruiting programs, sourcing candidates from other companies, advertising for the role, reaching out into employee networks, or hiring recruiters.  Sometimes this just isn’t enough.  What else can you do in order to make your voice heard?  Our clients need our help:  what will make a Unicorn notice them and poke their head in the door to learn more about the job?

Because Project House has HR, Branding, Design, and Web expertise, we are able to seamlessly pull these elements together for our clients, and design a business solution that maximizes our skills.

Most recently we were asked to solve the Unicorn Problem for a new client:  after struggling to attract and hire senior, experienced, high calibre engineers, they needed a solution that would target this very specific candidate and get their attention.  This was going to be much more than an HR solution; it would require the creative brains of a Marketing campaign in combination with elements of design, as well some deep-dive discovery – exciting!  We would need to dig into the qualities and common elements of this particular candidate and find out what would most attract them to our client’s business.  We would also need to find out why current star employees had been attracted to the company, then ask why they stay and what matters to them.   We’d have to go into the industry and examine what competitors were doing well, and identify unique unicorn hunting opportunities.

From this discovery phase, we typically move into a design phase, coming up with a few options for look + feel, message + tone, and we make recommendations about where to launch the campaign in order to maximize its impact and reach:  is this a print ad in an industry magazine, a polished conference booth, a unique industry event, or a billboard beside a competitor’s office?

When we meet with clients who are struggling to attract the right candidates, we dive into a number of areas of their business to see what might be going on.  Often we arrive at Employer Brand, which is a way to describe the outside world’s experience and opinion of your company as a place to work – this consists of a combination of your company’s website, social media presence, current and past employee reviews, manager skills, reputation, and more.  Ultimately we try to determine if what your company says matches how it behaves, and identify areas where we can help you bring up your game.  A recruiting campaign could be an ongoing branded effort across all of these platforms, or it could be a special one-off project to fill a critical gap.

Are you struggling to recruit and hire?  Are you hoping to land a unicorn?  We can help!

 

HR is dead! Long live HR!

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I love being in HR.  I love people, their joy, their weirdness, their excitement, their grumpiness, their unpredictability.  I love learning as well as teaching.  I love being in a room the moment someone “gets it,” especially when that someone is me.  I enjoy the effort and reward of creating, coaching, and listening.  I enjoy being surprised, breaking big problems into smaller achievable ones, providing information and guidance.  I like being involved in bringing clarity, reasonable processes, and policies that work. I like rolling up my sleeves in the grey area that is human behaviour. Read more

The Power of Assessments

 

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About 2.5 years ago, before Project House was even really conceived, I was doing some business consulting for a client and was introduced to the idea of assessments for employees.  I know that in many circles this kind of thing is perhaps old hat – but for me, coming from an industry that didn’t place a lot of value in this type of thing, this was a revelation to me and one that I found quite interesting.  Over the course of several months, we conducted a number of assessments with employees, and during this time, I decided to participate in one myself.  I really enjoyed reading what it had to say about how I perceive things and what drives me, and since then have participated in a number of other types of assessments that, in combination, have allowed me to gain a much deeper self-awareness.

With Heidi’s background in HR and software, she has seen these tools used widely and often to help teams communicate better and more effectively, and to give employees insight into how they make decisions and process information.  The more I look into these tools and the more insight they give me into different perspectives, the more I appreciate how complex everyone is, and how beneficial it is to be able to see things from someone else’s point of view.

What I find the most satisfying is that, even while you can know yourself quite well, it is often challenging to explain yourself and what makes you tick.  Having my “personality” articulated in new ways really opened up a different world for me.  I have gained insight into why I react a certain way and work a certain way, and how I approach projects and problems.  This new understanding is really allowing me to drill down into the kinds of work I enjoy doing and am good at, versus what I really should learn to stay away from. Each of the various assessments I’ve taken over the last couple of years has given me another piece of the Crystal Puzzle, as some are more focused on behaviour, some on what my deep-rooted needs are, what I’m talented at, what kind of a leader I am, and also the various areas where I have blind spots and need to gain more self-awareness.

Why should you care about this stuff? Well… as far as I’m concerned, knowledge is power.  If I know more about my team, how they work, how they interact, and what makes them “tick”, I can use that information to communicate better, give more effective feedback, pair team members with the right types of projects.  The bottom line for me is a happier and healthier team, and one that is motivated and doing their best work.

 

Here is a brief overview of our favourite assessments (so far!):

PPA by Thomas International

Thomas International is a global provider of objective management systems and work-based assessment tools. Their combination of assessment tools and consultants can help to reduce attrition, maintain a high level of employee productivity and engagement and more effective leadership (from their website).

Thomas offers a variety of assessments.  We have used the Personal Profile Analysis (PPA) tool quite often, and we find it to be very simple and useful.  About the PPA, Thomas explains “Thomas Personal Profile Analysis (PPA) provides an accurate insight into how people behave at work, giving you a greater level of certainty when recruiting, identifying where to maximize your learning and development budget, and understanding where to boost morale to avoid staff turnover.”  The Thomas group also offers a General Intelligence tool, a 360 feedback tool and an Emotional Intelligence Tool.  Heidi and I toyed with the idea of trying out the General Intelligence tool but got too scared that one of us would be smarter than the other so we decided not to take it!!

Emergenetics

From the Emergenetics site, “Emergenetics is rooted in the concept that who you are today is the emergence of your behavior, genetic makeup and life experiences. Emergenetics provides a clear way to understand this intersection of nature and nurture through the Emergenetics Profile, built on four Thinking Attributes and three Behavioral Attributes that every person exhibits.”

In Heidi’s blog about Opposites in Partnership, she mentions some of the attributes that she and I identified through this profile, for example our level of Expressiveness, Assertiveness or Flexibility and whether we are Structural, Conceptual, Analytical or Social.  This assessment is very useful to help identify your preferences in receiving and processing information.

Emotional Intelligence

From the EQi site:  “Emotional intelligence is the unique repertoire of emotional skills that a person uses to navigate life. EQi is a psychological assessment of the individual’s emotional intelligence as it relates leadership capability in areas of authenticity, decision- making, stress management, interpersonal relations, and overall well-being.

This is a fascinating test that contains a list of qualities that are believed to make up your “Emotional Intelligence” such as Empathy, Independence, Problem Solving, Stress Tolerance, Emotional Self-Awareness, etc. and reveals the areas where you are the most and least comfortable.

Motivation Factor

Developed in Switzerland, this assessment tool is relatively new to North America (especially Canada).  This assessment program is used to pinpoint what motivates you, by identifying your needs and talents. The idea is that if you are meeting your needs and using your talents, then you will be able to stay highly motivated.  I found this one especially fascinating, because once my needs and talents were made clear to me, a lot of things made more sense.  For example, one of my strongest needs is for Order.  This shows up everywhere for me, and I know my brain is happiest when things are organized and in order, both at work and at home.  I gravitate towards complex, colour-coded calendars, and once everything is neat and accounted for, I am better able to focus and enjoy things. Even the idea of a cluttered countertop makes my mind foggy.

StandOut

StandOut is an online strengths assessment tool from author and management expert Markus Buckingham that is paired with his book, StandOut: The Groundbreaking New Strengths Assessment from the Leader of the Strengths Revolution.

The StandOut assessment delivers a customized report based on 9 StandOut “roles:” Advisor, Connector, Creator, Equalizer, Influencer, Pioneer, Provider, Stimulator, and Teacher.  Each participant is assigned a primary and secondary role based on their test.  Once again, Heidi and I scored exactly opposite:  my top 2 (Pioneer, Influencer) roles are her bottom two, and her top scoring roles (Teacher, Advisor) are my lowest.  A few other members of our team have also participated in this assessment, and we are really enjoying the reports, which summarize information in really practical and clear ways.

There are so many more assessments that can be used to identify strengths and make communication and working together easier.  Please let us know if you’re interested in finding out more, and we’ll be very happy to talk with you and your team about what you need.

Creating a Simple Assessment Form

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Is it time to have a conversation about performance with your team? Are you feeling overwhelmed and unprepared? We’d like to help, as promised, by giving you some tips for creating a simple form that can act as an anchor for this type of conversation, whether it is annual, post-project, quarterly, or weekly. This form can be used as an employee self-assessment or a manager review, in either a formal meeting or an informal 1:1.

Conversations about performance can be powerful but they don’t have to be complicated. What matters most is creating a fair process for open and productive communication between managers and employees, agreeing to goals and actions, and capturing the results. Employees want to know what is expected of them, how they are doing, and what they need to do to be successful. Using a simple written form for discussing and measuring performance keeps things clear and fair, and when you’re done, everything is already written down so it can be referred to later.

Start with something small, then gauge your results. This may be a new or untried process for you. It can evolve over time, and you can course-correct or add to it next year.

For now, try creating a simple form with the employee’s name, reviewer’s name, the date, and the three sections detailed here:

1. Assessment of job skills + responsibilities.

This section of the form can be as simple as a list of key skills and responsibilities with a ratings scale and space to add comments.

To create a small list of the skills and responsibilities you want to measure, it might help to take elements from the employee’s job description as a starting point. Responsibilities evolve over time, however, so don’t be afraid to use a list that reflects real tasks. For now, pick a handful of these that are important to your business. Assess whether or not your employee is performing these well, within schedule and scope, and to a high degree of quality.

You can design the ratings to fit your culture, but if you’re stuck, “Above Expectations, Meeting Expectations, and Not Meeting Expectations,” or using a scale of 1-3 or 1-5 are all pretty common. The important thing is to make sure everyone understands what the scale means and uses it in the same way.

Comments are important, because they add context and explanation beyond a rating. Why does the employee or their manager see things this way? What are they looking for? What’s missing? Were sales targets or deadlines met? Were resources used properly? Was the company’s business advanced in some way? Is the employee challenged or bored? Do they feel inspired to do their best, or are they buried under meaningless tasks and a lack of clear direction? In other words, what are they responsible for, are they living up to expectations, and do they have what they need to do great work?

2. Assessment of fit.

How an employee performs their work is often as important as the work itself. Just like the section for job skills, this part of the form can be a list of a few values or soft skills/qualities, your ratings scale, and space for comments.

To create this list, think about the qualities you are looking for in your workplace. If you don’t know, consider your “leaders by example” and try to articulate what makes them a great addition to your business. Doing this will likely give you a list of qualities you want to measure and encourage in everyone, in categories such as communication, leadership, teamwork, customer satisfaction, professionalism, and the ability to build relationships.

Measuring and assessing behaviour can make it clear to your employees what matters to you. Why does this matter? Think about a time when you worked with an incredibly bright and productive team member who hit all of their deadlines and produced high quality work, but they were disruptive and arrogant in meetings, hostile to coworkers, came in late every day, and didn’t listen to anyone else’s ideas. Were they in a job category where this mattered? If so, it’s important to bring this up, ask questions, and, if possible, correct behaviour. It’s also critical to encourage great, healthy, positive behaviour if that matters to your team and your business.

3. Goal-setting.

Goals look to the future. They can cover areas such as training, support, overall performance, or the desire for increased job scope or responsibility. A simple way to capture this for discussion is to create a blank section with a question or two, such as “What are 1 or 2 areas you want to improve in, and why?” and ‘What can the company do to support this?”

As with any system, its purpose, as well as the guts of it and how you train your staff to use it, are important. If you and your employee use this form as a starting point, then meet to compare and discuss the results, you will have the ingredients for an effective conversation.

Need more help? Please get in touch with us at hello(at)projecthouse(dot)ca.

Designing a Performance Assessment Program

Performance_Assessment_Project_HouseIf you show your employees the path to success at your company, they will have an easier time walking it. Simply telling someone to do something doesn’t mean they understand what you want, or know how to achieve it well. Clarity comes from giving them concrete responsibilities, feedback, and goals. Without consistent measurement of both What and How they’re doing, it is difficult to talk about performance. And without the conversation around performance, it is difficult to make fair decisions around promotions, salary increases, praise, terminations, levels of responsibility, and other actions. Also, employees don’t tend to stay in jobs where they feel that goals are unreachable, where feedback is inconsistent and unfair, or where there is no positive result to working hard and doing well.

So, if you’re looking to design a successful performance assessment program that feeds these conversations throughout the year, here’s how to start:

1. Plan for regular feedback and discussion:

The most successful performance programs use consistent measurement year-round in order to keep the conversation going, fix issues as they arise, and provide ongoing focus and feedback. If you rarely connect with your staff to talk about how they’re doing, what they need from you, or what you need from them, how are you really supporting them as they try to contribute to your business?

A full performance review might happen annually, but communication and documentation of successes and goals, progress and issues, training recommendations, and course corrections are most productive if they happen often. Look for an upcoming blog around creating a simple Assessment form that you can use as an anchor for this type of conversation.

2. Care about Goal-setting

One way to keep the performance discussion alive all year is to share company goals, use them to help set employee goals for the quarter or for the year, and check in regularly to see how the employee is doing. This is an opportunity to provide encouragement and further direction, or make a course correction along the way.

Goals don’t have to be complicated; they just need to be achievable and relevant (see our blog post about setting SMART goals). Goals can be about sales, customer satisfaction, hitting deadlines, learning new technology, taking on more responsibility, sharing the load with others, being nicer – whatever is needed for further success, for both the employee and the business.

When all is said and done, you want your employee to feel informed and engaged, with a concrete plan to obtain the tools, skills, and support they need to achieve their goals and do a great job.

3. Tangible results:

What happens when your employee does a great job and reaches their goals? What happens when they don’t? Money is not always the reason people stay in a job, but no one likes their hard work to go unrecognized.

Be clear about what your company is able to do now, and what your plans are in the future. If you’re in start-up mode and you can’t reward with a bonus or promotion, think creatively about what you can offer to high performers: for example, extra days off, a parking pass, more autonomy, a chance to learn new skills, volunteer opportunities, or public praise might go a long way towards keeping them motivated. Are there opportunities for your staff to attend workshops, seminars, or industry conferences? Can you increase access to meetings or workgroups around strategic thinking or creativity + ideas?

Just as importantly, how do you handle employees who consistently get the same critique but who seem unable to improve? Are you equipped to offer training or mentoring? Do you know how to let someone go?

A successful performance conversation is not a one-way street, but rather a more scenic view. In other words, what does your employee think their role and responsibilities are, do their goals make sense, do they know what “good” looks like to the business and to their manager, and what do they need from the company in order to do great work and stay motivated?

Need more help? Please get in touch with us at hello(at)projecthouse(dot)ca.

 

Working smarter vs. working harder

Getty Images

Getty Images

 

I wanted to build off our blog from last week about working from home, and talk a bit about the importance (and differences) between working smarter vs. working harder. One of the things that I hear time and time again is that employers often find that the productivity of work-from-home parents is often much higher within a condensed work week. This is always really interesting for me to hear – it is something that I have always believed, and I love to hear that others see it too.

Given that the Project House team is made up of people with restrictions on their time, due to commitments related to parenting, volunteering, and other work commitments, etc., we know that our output needs to be high within the windows of time that we have available during the week.

My most productive time is when I have a deadline or some pressure to get work done. For example, when I know that I have 5 good hours in which to sit down and bang out the 20 critical things on my list, that deadline helps me to clear my mind of unwanted clutter, focus my brain on the tasks at hand, think succinctly about the problem that needs solving, and propels me forward .

Now, all of us would love to be highly productive all the time, but we often get bogged down for some reason, and the day can just slip away from us leaving us wondering “what the hell did I accomplish today??”

So. Want to work smarter instead of harder? Here are some tips:

Prioritize your tasks

  • Believe in planning. If you buy into at least a simple process of organizing yourself, and you follow a few steps each time, it will save you time in the long run.
  • Establish what needs to be done when, and create a timeline. Sometimes mixing high priority tasks and some easier work can keep you from feeling overwhelmed.
  • Go through larger tasks and break them down into smaller, achievable pieces.
  • Delegate wherever possible – do you need to do everything on your task list, or is there someone who might be be a better fit (or even just as good) for the task.
  • If you do not have the time to do something right, be prepared to say “not right now”, or even “no”. It is better to be upfront about your inability to take on a task than to miss an important deadline because you have over-committed.

Manage your clients

  • Communicate clearly with your clients early and often. Make sure that you establish clear expectations for the work, for what “done” means, and that any approval process is well defined. Also it pays to manage expectations around deadlines, including draft vs. final.
  • Have the confidence not to accept a bad job. This is obviously a tricky one when you are working for yourself, but if a job does not “feel right” or it does not fit your own company values, then it might be better in the long run to walk away.
  • If a project is straying from the original brief in a significant way, make sure that the client understands that there could be financial implications.

Manage your time

  • Plan your time properly and have the discipline to get on with tasks in the order you’ve planned. It is easy to procrastinate and end up wasting time on a task, and this costs money.
  • Look at how you are doing things – maybe there is a more effective way.
  • Be flexible – this sounds contradictory when talking about time management, but if you allow for the fact that sometimes things don’t go as planned, and if you have an alternate way around an issue, this will help you save time.

Take care of yourself

  • Take regular breaks, stretch, eat, drink water. Studies have shown that breaks help keep you focused and give you the opportunity to take a step back from what you’re working on.
  • If something is not working, walk away from it and do something else for a little while. Coming back to a problem later might give you a fresh perspective.

Having said all the above, I don’t believe you can actually afford to only work smart, as running a business requires that you work both hard AND smart! The key is to be as productive and effective as possible, and to set up good prioritization, time management and task management systems in order to optimize your output. So in the end I suggest a small tweak to the phrase, and I’d like to say that it’s most important to “work hard while working smart”!  Good luck!

 

“Human Resources”: A rose by any other name

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Ok I get it – “Human Resources” is not a widely understood term.  The title is a bit cold and uninspiring, and people don’t want to be referred to as “resources”, but rather as living, breathing, creative beings.  “Human Resources” doesn’t really reflect the skillset within the profession either:  there is no hint of staffing or training, recruiting or leadership coaching, strategic planning or interviewing, onboarding or outplacement, contract negotiation or employment law…  “Human Resources” is a broad businessy term with no tangible indication of friendliness, supportiveness, or of helping people succeed in their work.

Fair enough.  Many companies avoid “Human Resources” by using the abbreviation “HR” (I often use this term because it’s shorter and friendlier), and others have created new titles that suit their culture better, such as Manager of “People Potential” or “Talent”.  Until a new term is commonly used, I’m happy to just work hard for my clients and companies, and to talk about the meaning of HR as I perceive it, and (more importantly) how it pertains to their individual needs.

As an HR professional who has also had a long career in project management and development, and who has often been a customer and a partner to HR, I know firsthand that the role of HR isn’t always clear to everyone.  At the heart of the profession is a focus on employees, their potential, and their success within a company.  In the overall corporate balance, it is important to have someone more focused on people and process than on product or finance, but who appreciates that all of these aspects are critical to a company’s success.

Here’s what I care about:  Are the right employees performing the right jobs at the right times?  Are they trained?  Are they happy?  Do they know what is expected of them?  Are they treated fairly and legally?  Do they have everything they need in order to thrive at work?  Are their managers and leaders trained and engaged?  Is their company thinking about future hires, succession plans, performance measurements, rewards, promotions, competitive salary ranges?  Are people being hired properly, introduced to their responsibilities thoroughly, and also terminated when it makes sense?  Do they have a voice at the company, and are the right people listening?

A great company cares about their people because they know that great employees are critical to a company’s success, that it is difficult and expensive to find and hire them, and that great employees leave companies when they are not challenged or appreciated.  Great employees also leave when their managers are not strong, and when they are not given opportunities to do good work or grow their skills.  A great company knows that a strong reputation as an employer matters, and that people will work harder (and for less money) if they feel good about what they are doing and about who they are doing it for.  A great company understands the importance of clear roles and expectations, solid hiring and onboarding practices, and the need to recognize when an employee isn’t working out – as well as the desire and ability to find out why, and to do something about it, even if that means letting them go.

Many startup companies have fewer employees who are, by necessity, forced to wear multiple hats – founders often juggle the roles of CEO, CTO, COO, HR, Administration, Office Manager, Caterer, Programmer, Web Designer, Janitor –this is just the reality of running a lean machine until there is more money to spend.  However, because employees thrive when they are managed and guided by people who like and appreciate (and are skilled at) managing them, these companies often make the decision to invest in HR, in either full-time or consultant form, as early as possible.  HR, if used well, can help a company find the best people, use them wisely, set them up for success, and help them stay motivated, active, innovative, and hard-working over the long-term.  Essentially, where there are humans, there is a need for someone who specializes in them.