The Shape of the Modern People Team FAQ with Ross Seychell, CPO of Personio

Tom Hillman
4 mins

Driven by the digital revolution, intellectual property and people-driven services are increasingly considered of greatest value to a company. And the focus of many modern people teams is to attract the right employees, retain them through development and positive company culture, and analyse people data to inform high level business decisions.

After a challenging year in which many people teams have had to pivot to an accelerated remote working culture, we spoke to chief people officer at HR software company Personio, Ross Seychell, to learn more about the structure and evolution of his team.


How do you think the HR/people function has changed in businesses over the last few years? What new challenges are there? What new functions are there? Has anything disappeared? 


Over the last few years the HR function has evolved slowly, with an ongoing theme of the HR function needing to be more strategic, more commercial, more data driven etc to be taken seriously. While the team at Personio already focused on these areas given it being core to our business, it felt like for HR individuals more broadly we were never able to live up to expectations. In the last year, HR teams have really demonstrated these skills (and much more) real time. Handling the pandemic, the shift to remote working, building long term strategic plans, and balancing the day job has become the new norm. 

I can see new functions like remote working leads have appeared. I think they’re fads and remote or hybrid working should become everyone’s responsibility, as a lens to build your people products through. I’ve also seen diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) leadership roles appear more in the market. Again, a knee jerk reaction to this year’s systemic racism issues for some companies rather than being thoughtful and action orientated about how they solve this jointly with teams, rather than making it someone’s job to solve it alone.


How does Personio set up the people team? What functions exist for you? And what are the pros and cons? 


I joined five weeks ago and the team has been organised into three main teams - talent acquisition, people & operations and employer brand & culture. We have developed some great foundations for the future for sure but we know we want to invest now in other skills and experiences to complement what we have already. 


This year ahead we’re implementing the next phase of our operating model, including adding to our people partnering and people operations teams to help us scale. We’ll also hire new skills like reward and organisational development to support our strategic people needs as we expand internationally.


What are the essential people functions versus the ones that can be developed later as businesses scale? 


There are a few [essential functions] from my experience (and making some mistakes):

  • Talent acquisition to help you attract and hire sustainably to meet business goals .
  • People operations to build infrastructure to support employees from early on.
  • Culture and employer brand to define how you work together, what you offer and what you stand for. Getting that clear early and what makes your company unique - it will help you find/ attract the candidates you need.


When you can afford it, get someone super talented in data and analytics. Even to collate your hiring and people data, draw some insights and essentially help you understand where to prioritise team efforts.


Anything you expect to change more over the coming year? Perhaps the impact of remote setups on your team? 


I expect to see companies need to review their end-to-end employee experience living now in a permanently hybrid world. This is where teams and individuals will be hired, onboarded, work, collaborate and deliver in multiple locations at any time. This is no small feat. Not only does it involve how and where people work, but how to onboard and supervise them, plus how to hire them, pay them and stay within legal and immigration rules. And whilst we’re there, ensure they’re engaged, healthy, productive and stay with us.


I’d also expect to see continued focus on well-being and mental health. Specifically removing the stigma attached to it, and how all employees and leads can open up and get the support they need.


Any advice for scaling businesses looking to build out their people teams?


Try to keep the development/build of your people team at the same rate as the rest of your organisation. Of course it won’t need to scale like-for-like with product, engineering, sales or customer service, but don’t only focus on hiring recruiters. Include generalist HR specialists who can help look at employee experience, people frameworks, pay, benefits and development early on. If you build the foundations earlier it’s way easier to build on top once you scale up further. 


If budget is an issue, hire a contractor who has done it before a few days per week to keep you moving until you can. 


Finally, make people topics everyone’s focus on their plans or objectives and key results (OKRs) - you’ll be surprised at some of the skills or experiences you didn’t know your people already have.