What do people need? Humanworks8 knows.

By Anna Lardinois, Startup Storyteller

After 25 years as a leader in the Human Resources industry, Shawn Gulyas began to reflect on what people needed to be successful. His experience led him to determine that whether people are inside or outside of the workplace, everyone needs the same things to thrive.

He determined each human being shares eight key qualities and that success is achieved when those qualities are understood and acknowledged.

The philosophy guided him to launch his business management company, humanworks8.

Launched three years ago today, Gulyas was joined in the endeavor by fellow human resources veterans AJ Kruse, Sarah Marshall and Rebecca Swanson. Together, they have grown their business many times over while meeting the needs of a national roster of clients.

From newly launched companies to established firms that have existed for more than a century, the humanworks8 team prides themselves on finding what they call “people solutions” for every business.

MKEStartup.News spoke with Kruse, Marshall and Swanson about their experiences launching a startup company that helps other startups successfully grow.

MSUN: When should startups begin focusing on human resource practices?

SM: A post-launch startup where they’ve gotten their name out there, they’ve gotten some of their base stuff done, and now they’re in a period of growth, that’s the time for us to come in and look at strategic planning or core values and their people practices. Most organizations when they first start aren’t focused on “How do I take care of the people?,” it’s “How do we take care of the idea?” So, when it’s time to start taking care of the people is when we pop in.

MSUN: For a startup company, when is the right time to establish its corporate culture?

AK: Culture is there already. That’s one of the things that we tell anyone, your culture already exists. How are you defining it? Are you finding the right way to define it accurately, so you’re telling the truth of what that culture is? How are you extending that or continuing that into all of those people practices that you never had to have when you were that group just scratching around to survive as a founder group, but now it’s time to start adding people?

When you start growing the team, or you’re experiencing the growth you wanted, how do you start making sure that culture is there and alive and all of what we would call the people touch points of a business?

In all those people practices, everything from finding that new person and onboarding, all the way through a talent lifecycle to off boarding and everything in between. That truth of your culture, it already exists. Now it’s time for you to find not just the right language, but the right practices to put around that to extend and live with that growing team.

SM: I’ll add one thing to that. With a founder or partners, or founder group, they play a huge role in what that culture will be. It’s there, but five years from now, or 10 years from now the original values should still be reflected in how the business is carried out.

MSUN: Many startups are primarily focused on growth and creating returns for investors. Why should they care about ‘people practices’?

SM: I think that’s so simple to us. It’s, “If you take care of your people, they will take care of your business.” If you want your organization to grow and be successful, if you want happy clients or customers, start with happy employees. Start with employees that care and really, really can share that message and share that passion with your clients and customers.

RS: To build that strong cultural foundation you want employee number two to feel it as well as employee number 20 and employee 100. When you’re building that strong cultural foundation from the get-go, it isn’t going to be “I was employee two and now that we’re up to 100, it’s night and day and now I’m leaving” sort of thing. It really helps with retention. Certainly, things will change, and they’ll grow as that company grows, but having that strong foundation really sets the stage.

MSUN: The humanworks8 team have worked with each other in the past before launching the company. How did it feel to take the leap into entrepreneurship?

RS: I’ve been really lucky. I’ve reported to Shawn since January of 2006, which is like a lifetime. I never came to work thinking I don’t want to go to work or let me look elsewhere. Constant challenge and constant change with the culture that we came into and helped to build and support and keep growing.

Honestly, when Shawn left, for me it wasn’t even a question. It was that Jerry McGuire moment. I’m like “hey, let me go pack my box. Where are you going?” because I believed in it so much.

AK: I was never scared of it for a split second. I wasn’t worried about it one bit. Not once.

To Rebecca’s point, I was willing to go anywhere with Shawn, he’s a fantastic leader. But what we were doing was what I believed in. And could it fall apart? Sure, but it wouldn’t make me stop believing in what we were doing. So, whether I was believing and living those principles at any other company in the world or whether I got to be the tip of the spear trying to bring some of those good things to someone, I was to me, it was a no-brainer. But whether you know, taking that leap fell flat on my face or not, I would. I followed my heart that way and said, “I want to do that.”

SM: My only question was when do we start? When can we do this? I echo what AJ and Rebecca said. I don’t think we ever questioned our decision … We knew it would work. It had to because we know how to work with people, and we know how to help leaders grow and develop their people.

MSUN: Three years is a tremendous milestone for a new business. What lessons have you learned over the years?

SM: I think one of the major learnings is sort of just a reinforcement. There is a system that’s at the core of who we are, the Kolbe system. It’s really all about how you naturally take action, your natural strengths.

The four of us leaned into that so much over the last three years we’ve really realized … the strength that each of us bring to the table that is overlooked, especially with startups, when everybody’s trying to wear a business development hat.

All four of us do that, but we do it in our own unique ways and I think that’s really important for growing startups to really evaluate individual strengths and lean into them, as opposed to trying to do it all and not pulling in the right people for the right tasks or roles.

RS: (On networking) Let’s make sure that all of our prior business relationships know what we’re doing because they have networks … tapping into our own families and relationships. But then taking it beyond there because of course you can’t just use your current network.

It’s really leaning into the Chambers and Associations that we became part of by getting out there and speaking about what we were doing and passionate about … really leaning into those relationships and making new relationships too. Having the relationship and what the good and service that we can provide, versus the sale at hand.

AK: Right person in the right seat is such a big deal. It is the make or break for any startup.

Be willing to use whatever tools you can get to learn about those people and have those really open, honest conversations, be willing to shift, change, shuffle responsibility roles.

Not being afraid to meet, talk with and dream with people. Even if they weren’t going to be a prospective client. We did a lot of getting out there and just meeting and talking with as many people as you possibly could, getting out in the community through all those Chamber relationships.  

We called it an abundance mindset when we started. Not everybody is going to be a client, but maybe there’s something there.

Maybe they know somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody who might need us, or maybe they need us to be pitching them out to the next person we meet, and we can connect the dot for someone else.

We abandoned the scarcity mindset that we had to fight for clients, and we just said, “Let’s just be great with people. And let’s meet anybody and have an abundance mindset about every person we meet and talk to. And let’s get out there and evangelize what we believe about people.”

Our reach, our growth, and a lot of our ability to be outside of this region only happen because of this region. It only happened because of the relationships and connection and people that we met right here in Milwaukee, right here in southeastern Wisconsin.

I think (that) is such a cool thing about being in Milwaukee and being in southeastern Wisconsin, is all of those relationships. We went down the list of people who are well outside of this bubble. (Meeting them) It wasn’t by accident. It was all because of what we did here locally. There are a lot of great roots locally.

To follow the continued growth of humanworks8, connect with them here.

From left, Rebecca Swanson, AJ Kruse, Sarah Marshall and Shawn Gulyas

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