The Challenge: In the past three years, HootSuite, a social-media management tool, grew 900%, from 30 to 300 people. The Vancouver-based firm is still hiring approximately 10 new employees a week, primarily in engineering and sales, while expanding internationally with field representatives in the U.S., Hong Kong, Australia and Europe.
While HootSuite had outgrown its scrappy startup days, its hiring process hadn’t. Like lots of young companies, leadership knew in its gut when it had found great fits, and with the firm’s mad dash growth, and more time could have been spent on processes such as reference checks, said HootSuite’s founder Ryan Holmes. In 2012, when HootSuite made its biggest hiring push, growing from 100 to 250 employees, Holmes was spending several hours a day on hiring, even with a full-time executive on staff devoted to human resources.
“The primary challenge of the past few years was our insatiable appetite for more talent,” Holmes, says. “We always need more engineers, more salespeople, more marketers — and it becomes a relentless pursuit that you spend all of your time on.”
In addition to the sheer volume of hires were the growing pains associated with transitioning from a small startup to a medium-sized global company. Hiring would bottleneck and Holmes had less time to spend on the product. “When you’re a 30-person firm, there’s no rules. Everybody is just hustling,” says Holmes. “When you have 300 people, you need systems in place.”
The Fix: Rather than micro-managing the hiring process, Holmes shifted some staffing responsibilities to managers. The company had moved past the one-man-band generalists that helped its launch and departments sought out specialists to meet their goals. Today, managers ensure hires have the right skillsets through tests like those given to developers to gauge problem-solving skills and software knowledge or the role-playing exercises that vet customer service candidates, says Ambrosia Humphrey, HootSuite’s vice president of talent.
As the company grows internationally, human resources has become more formalized. Orientation for international hires occurs via Skype, says Humphrey. New employees watch videos on the company’s mission and history to help build culture with hires time zones away. HR check-ins with new staffers happen at multiple intervals, after the first and second weeks as well as after the first 30, 60 and 90 days to ensure they have the tools they need and can get questions answered.
Now, with a dedicated human resources department in place, Holmes spends less than two hours a week on talent acquisition and hiring, working with the department’s leadership through email and in-person meetings. And if these processes don’t work to keep the firm and its employees thriving, Holmes says, he’s willing to try out others. “I want an entrepreneurial culture. If these systems become a burden, hopefully they get broken and reinvented and accepted, or broken and reinvented again. That’s part of what growing is.”
A large, rapidly growing company must evolve its hiring practices and empower staff to take the reins.