Updated: Nov 21, 2021
The Head of People is responsible for finding, developing, motivating and retaining a startup’s team. Okay, we get that you guys know the “boiler plate” job description you’ll typically see in a job posting, but what does this job truly do?
We asked ourselves this question and then thought, what better way to learn more about what it takes to become a Head of People than sitting down with someone who is currently in those shoes?
Enter: Michael Brown.
Michael Brown an incredible thought leader in the people ops space - and he’s located right here in Boston! Currently, Michael Brown is the Head of People at Meter, a hardware startup developing next-generation volumetric imaging technology. Prior to joining, Michael was the VP of People at Cogo Labs, a technology-driven venture accelerator, and VP of Talent at both Toast and SHYFT Analytics - and the list just goes on with his accomplishments in the space.
Startup Boston (SB): What inspired you to choose this career path?
Mike Brown (MB): It was really three things. The first, is that I enjoy understanding motivators and behaviors, second, I really love helping people, and third, I enjoy creating smooth experiences that catch people’s attention.
SB: As Head of People at Meter, what are you responsible for and who is on your team?
MB: I am specifically responsible for the people operations function, talent acquisition, and learning and development programs. We have a small team, currently. There are two other people on my team, Kory heads up talent acquisition and Alex is our candidate experience specialist. And I report directly to our CEO, Eduardo Torrealba.
SB: How did you know that this was the best job for you and how did you land this role?
MB: I knew that this was the best role for me because, one, it was in the talent or people space, which is something I’m incredibly passionate about. But, two, to take it a step further, it’s within the startup scene. And the startup space, in general, scratches a lot of my itches - such as moving quickly and being able to use many different parts of my brain.
For this specific job at Meter, I went through a pretty long interview process with the existing executive team, which included a technical assessment.But, prior to this, what enabled me to be a good fit for this role was the collection of experiences I had to date. That would have included a background in talent acquisition and building recruiting functions and a background in the learning and development and people ops space. This collection of experiences prepared me to become Head of People at Meter.
SB: Do you have any career advice for someone looking to land a Head of People role?
MB: There are a few different paths you could take. One, is the path I tok, which was through more of a talent acquisition slant. However, I’ve also seen people leaders who have come to this role from a development space, such as Gabriela McManus over at Drizly. Or even folks who came at it from a people operational side of it as well can do quite well, especially when joining larger organizations.
SB: Characteristic wise, what type of person do you think does the best job as a Head of People?
MB: It does depend on if it’s a startup or larger corporation, but in general, it’s people that appreciate building experiences that matter, trying to provide people with opportunities that are equitable, and have a passion for people; you have to be willing to take on some of the hardest problems in the business that most don’t want to deal with.
SB: Now that you’re Head of People, what career options do you have from here?
MB: As we progress in the business, there is the potential, of course, for a Chief People Officer promotion as we grow. As the business progresses, hopefully we will elevate all of the roles and functions within the startup.
But outside of the people space, I do think that this role can lead to a path of Chief Operation Officer as well, I’ve seen strong operators being able to pivot from this role to that one. There’s also the option to join the product team at an HR tech company - on a side note, if you ever want to nerd out on all things HR tech, let me know. And the other is Exec Search which could be an interesting path at some point too.
SB: And words of advice for someone looking to work in the people feld?
MB: I would just say to take your time and try to have as many different experiences as you possibly can, so you can understand how to approach situations from all different angles. Especially in today’s day and age where it is a progressive work force. It’s incredibly important to learn a lot so you can become super mindful of how to approach and have different conversations. You also need to be passionate about doing the dirty work, this isn’t the most glamorous space at times. There are still adages out there that are sometimes true, such as the speaker space is a lonely space. But outside of that, it is a great career path.
Curious what a day in a life of a Head of People looks like? Check out what Mike does on a daily basis in the video below:
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