How To

August 25, 2023

How to hire a chief people officer

Lauren Joseph, chief people officer at Berlin-based fintech Mondu, shares her top tips on how and when to hire a chief people officer

Lauren Joseph was a strategy consultant before joining the startup world in an operations and strategy role at a post-series A company. The company didn’t have an HR or people department, so she slowly took over that function bit by bit.

“It was a labour of love,” she laughs. “We had great culture and people management processes that were led by the founders — but what works at 20 employees hits a wall at 40 people.” 

Since then Lauren has been the VP of people at product rental platform Grover, before starting her current role at Berlin-based fintech Mondu as its chief people officer in October 2022. 


Here she shares her top tips for hiring a chief people officer. 

Hire early

If a founder has some experience in this area, you can get away with not having a chief people officer for a while. If one of the founders can’t take on that role as they're spread too thin, then it has to be one of your first hires. In both situations, if you wait until you've hit a breaking point to bring someone in, you will have a lot of people technical debt to clean up. Generally, once you get to about 60 people, you need to have a dedicated senior people leader.

Don’t focus on your industry

Someone from a different industry to yours can bring a fresh perspective. The important part is having someone who has previously worked at this stage of a business. If you were to recruit someone who had only ever joined a company — like a corporate or a publicly listed company — once everything was built out, they wouldn't necessarily be able to build the function from scratch. Be mindful that building from scratch and overseeing something once it is built are two different jobs.

Hire someone who takes a people-centred approach

HR departments used to see their team as a risk to be managed. Find someone who understands that the most important strategic partnership you'll make as a company is the one with your team. Your chief people officer needs to be able to amplify the team’s skills and talents and ensure they feel seen, valued and are progressing.

Find someone who can prioritise

They need to understand the company's goals and overall strategy in order to create a hiring plan that supports it. Hiring in the right order of operations is key to the success of an early-stage company — especially when budgets are tight in the early days. So, for example, if you know that there's an area or department that is critical to build out in order to support capacity, that should be prioritised. At Mondu, for example, we invested and focused on building out a top-notch legal team. For your company, it might be product people or salespeople.

They must click with the founders

The relationship between the C-suite and the founders/CEO is so important in the early days. The chief people officer is responsible for delivering an outsized proportion of upward feedback, i.e. they deliver what they hear from the rest of the team to senior management and relay information from the top back to the rest of the team. They need to be able to communicate openly, sensitively, transparently and without ego. They will sometimes take on the role of coach, even to the founders/CEO.

A huge part of building trust with the founders/CEO is being able to talk shop — they need to understand where the company has been and where it is going. If an employee comes to the chief people officer to talk about a challenge, they need to be able to contextualise it within the wider company picture when feeding it back up the chain: Is this a common problem? How is this impacting our goals? How has it impacted our journey thus far? What do we need to change based on this information to get us where we need to be?

You need to go find them

They’re not going to come to you. Many C-suite positions never make their way to LinkedIn job boards because the set of requirements is so specific and unique to a company. To save time, work with an executive recruiter, either in house or an agency, to proactively reach out to a really tight pool of talent. This makes it easier for the hiring manager who, in this case, is probably the CEO.

Make use of your network too. As the founder/CEO you might share on LinkedIn, with your investors and peer group, that, "Hey, I’m looking for X role with Y specifics, can you introduce me to anyone?"

On the subject of... hiring a chief people officer

Anisah Osman Britton

Anisah Osman Britton is coauthor of Startup Life , a weekly newsletter on what it takes to build a startup. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn