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Sophie Theen: ‘The main ingredient for hyper-growth: your own people’

Curious about hyper-growth? Sophie Theen can tell you all about it. The staffing levels at her London-based FinTech-start-up 11FS grow roughly 300% per year. While serving as head HR at Revolut, she even managed to hit 500% within one year… but what does that all mean?

Jasper Spanjaart on January 21, 2020 Average reading time: 3 min
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Sophie Theen: ‘The main ingredient for hyper-growth: your own people’

During the 2019 edition of Talent Acquisition Live, Sophie Theen, the self-proclaimed ‘Culture and Talent Guardian’ told the audience that she only sees one main ingredient for successful hyper-growth: your people. We posed her a few more questions. 

How do you manage to accomplish such an enormous growth?

Sophie Theen

“Reality is that when you’re the first person in HR, you do everything – together with the founders – for everything surrounding people and culture. So when the company grows, so does my team. They all have their own fields of expertise – which allowed me to think about the future. I look at a strategic planning of the workforce, because everything needs to be financially justifiable – which ensures you think twice before hiring someone. This may all sound like you’re wasting time at a start-up where everything happens fast, but my thought is: ‘if we don’t take a strategic approach with this, what makes us different? How do we know we do a better job than others?’ 

“If we don’t take a strategic approach with this, what makes us different?”

“I love that part of my day. The rest of the day I’m constantly challenging people, but let’s face it, there is no one-size-fits-all manual that helps HR professionals with solving every problem within their organisation. You need to tackle things, think, solve, learn and then implement that in your current process. It’s about continuing to learn and never stop reflecting.”

How would you describe hyper-growth? 

“Many founders ask about hyper-growth when I meet them. We all live in a myth where hyper-growth entails ‘hiring a lot of people’. That makes it seem like we’re superior compared to our rivals. But it’s a lie, I can tell you. Hyper-growth is when you double or triple your workforce, while people are still happy to work for you, even when those new hires result in a shift in culture.” 

When you hire 200 employees, but fire 100, you’re doing something wrong.” 

“You can only do this when you relinquish the idea of ‘growth, growth, growth – at every cost’ and learn about growing when it’s truly a necessity. It’s about forcing yourself to think about skill mapping, and strategically looking at the personnel workload from a cost perspective. Hyper-growth, in my experience, stems from leading medium to big companies – but again, it’s not about the amount. When you hire 200 employees, but fire 100, you’re doing something wrong.” 

With a small team you recruit a lot of people. How do you do that? 

“Strategy and own people. I know I may sound like a flashy consultant when I’m talking about strategy, but there’s a reason to it. Before, I had a team of 11 to recruit 200 individuals, now I have a team of 2, with which we hired 120 people. It’s not magic. Leading a strongly loaded organisation to hire that many people in a little amount of time means two things. Firstly: strategically planning to fill the gaps you need to fill (which means asking questions you would usually refrain from asking, because they’d say it’s HR’s job). Secondly: optimising your internal sources. Looking at who the best brand ambassadors are and who might know more people than you. Our biggest source of hires is word of mouth. Which means that everyone within the company knows someone they’re able to refer to us.” 

“Our biggest source of hires is word of mouth. Which means that everyone within the company knows someone they’re able to refer to us.”

You call yourself a ‘culture guardian’. Why? 

“It means I take the word ‘culture’ extremely serious. It means that when someone within our team is in need or is experiencing a real challenge, I drop all things I’m working on and go to them. They are my first and only priority. My role is to guard the culture by making sure people are happy and by solving their problems. Of course there may be times where I am not able to meet their expectations, but I know what our company principles are and ensure they are implemented in every process, conversation and training I have or do.”

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Jasper Spanjaart

Jasper Spanjaart

Writer and editor at ToTalent

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