Roza Szafranek

Roza Szafranek is the Founder & CEO of HR Hints, the first HR boutique operating in a subscription model, dedicated to startups and fast-growing tech companies. Together with her team, she has supported over 50 startups, teaching leaders how to be better with people and effectively develop companies. She shows founders and managers how to run companies based on engaged teams that deliver.

Roza helps to build superior organizations of the type dreamed of by founders and managers. She cooperated and still cooperates with companies such as Ramp Network, Infermedica, Packhelp, Omnipack, Telemedi, inSTREAMLY, Zowie, Aleph Zero, ShopRunner, Inovo Venture Partner and Innovation Nest.

She is a mentor of InCredibles, Sebastian Kulczyk’s mentoring program, a winner of the HR Pearls competition and the title of Recruiter of the Year 2018. She is featured in the Strong Women in IT Global Edition 2021 report. Roza is the author of both industry and academic articles, co-author of books, and a conference speaker. In addition, she runs the People from Work podcast.

Where did the idea for HR Hints come from?

I have been working with startups and scale-ups since 2014. During that time, I’ve worked in a recruitment agency, led teams, and acted as an HR and People Manager. I’ve also been responsible for people and operations in the European arm of a U.S. startup. Later, I began working as an HR freelancer. VCs and other startups started recommending me for work and during this time I received many offers to join management boards of companies and be their HR expert. Every time I heard: “It must be you.” That was the moment when I decided business needed to change its thinking and approach to HR in general.
I strongly believe that good HR cannot be based on one “special person,” but on a deliberately built culture, relevant expertise and committed people. What’s more, I’m 100% confident it can be scaled. Sales, marketing and other business functions went through the same process decades ago. Sales also had that narrative about themselves: “It really depends on the customer, we cannot measure our work, everything is situational,” and so on. But after some time, sales now has a well-described, scalable and measured business area. HR must go through the same process, and our goal and ambition at HR Hints is to do just that. So, in 2021, after 7 years of working with founders, I set up my own company. We’re an HR boutique, supporting founders in building teams, communication, defining values, and good leadership. We chose a subscription model for our customers and partners, both to standardize and universalize good patterns in HR and show that we’re able to scale. That’s why we’ve been able to help more than 60 companies in less than two years.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

When it comes to maintaining focus, it’s challenging, and there’s no fooling yourself that you can implement one thing that’ll work every single time. In my case, Pomodoro or other ready-made techniques do not work. I tend to focus on my priorities, the rhythm of the day, and focus work. In the morning, I work on things that require analysis and focus—working in solitude. Then, I hold meetings and, at the end of the day, do things that don’t require much focus. This is the easiest way for me to stay focused.
I think what’s most important is to check your progress regularly. Measure. Verify. Regularly correct what goes wrong.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Would it be too simple if I said: “I just try to do them?” But, it’s true. I come from the world of startups, where it’s said that an idea alone is only worth $1. You need more than that. Founders, who first and foremost want to “protect their business idea” and make everyone sign complicated NDAs before they communicate any details of their concept, are taken quite unserious. Execution is everything. You need to strike the right balance when managing and implementing an idea. You must understand the problem well enough and assess its complexity accurately enough to judge how much of your energy and time is needed to execute the right way and determine the role your colleagues and team needs to play to bring your ideas to life.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I am very excited about the increasing importance and role of the “people function” in organizations. Some of the current challenges in the workplace—i.e. quiet quitting, skill gaps or labor challenges—have taught business owners that their sales and products aren’t everything. There are more and more conversations about what managerial mechanisms work, what obstacles are typical during growth, and what issues are repetitive. These conversations can help founders learn from other founders and HR professionals to know how to avoid these mistakes. My companies – HR Hints, Culturivy, Effective Recruiter – are part of this trend, so I can see the scaling of interest in this topic and the changes in successful organizations from year-to-year up close.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Even if I’m not an expert in the area I’m managing, such as marketing or product development or management, I try to understand it well. It’s not that I need to be able to do these things, but I need to understand the mechanisms and know how something works. This is not only very interesting business-wise; it gives you the opportunity to understand the whole process at the level of the mechanisms driving the machine. It also helps you recognize mistakes you make and correct them immediately.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Focus on what is a priority. Life is great, people are great and there are a lot of interesting things to focus on and areas to grow in. However, it is very difficult to work as a leader when you don’t have your biggest goal in front of your eyes and don’t regularly ask yourself: “Why am I doing this? Is what I’m currently doing helping accomplish my goals?”

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

The bonsai method doesn’t work. Systematically cutting costs and saving on everything doesn’t have a positive impact on the organizational culture. Very often leaders make a mistake and, instead of recognizing that their business model is poorly conceived, customer acquisition isn’t working, or some other problem, they start thinking they can make small changes that will save everything. The small changes won’t solve larger issues. The foundation of the business needs to be secure for things to work properly.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

What I do repetitively in my organization is time-tested face-to-face meetings. However, I do them in public at the levels of individual, team, leadership, and the overall organization–in every team and at every level of the organization. Our point of view determines how we think about the organization and the problems we want to solve as entrepreneurs. That’s why it’s worth doing everything and getting people in our organizations to learn and understand other points of view and get out of our own cognitive bubble. We are very comfortable in it sometimes, but this is not conducive to identifying solutions that are truly inclusive and help our audiences and users.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Distractions in business and in life are immense. Our team members have their own goals to achieve, even while working for our organization. What works very well is to divide teams and individuals into functions. Very few (according to various data and psychological studies, between 0.01 and 0.5%, Harvard Business Review) have both operational and highly strategic competencies at any one time. Splitting the people function into operations, hiring (talent) and culture, and hiring different types of people for these individual areas solves a lot of problems. This is exactly what I do in other departments.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

As someone with a talent background and a leader with experience steering teams to help others build organizations, I made the mistake of hiring someone very toxic as a key person for my business. At the time, the company was in such a stage of intense scaling, which took most of our time, that the overwhelming need to finalize the recruitment on my part dulled my vigilance. The person we finally chose (we didn’t have such experienced talent internally, otherwise we would have just promoted them) worked for a short time, but still a few weeks too long, as we dealt with the damage in the areas of communication and organizational culture even after they left.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

It is imperative that there should be a network for automating repetitive activities in people management. I’m not talking about simple ATS or HRM systems, I’m talking more about applications and systems that support the perpetuation of good habits in organization leaders – efficient, simple, and easily communicated tools. These tools can be used during one-on-one meetings, when discussing compensation, and performance reviews.
These applications and systems should interact with users on a daily basis and be a place to record progress, communicate to others and self-reflect on what one is doing within the organization.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Metaphysics of a Two-Headed Calf” by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz.

This is a book that perfectly shows the mechanisms of maturing into self-awareness, as both a leader and community member. It’s a typical art book and non-business literature, but when it comes to responsibility, the limits of impact exerted on others and how one can free oneself from such influence. I recommend it to every leader who wants to be outstanding, to work with people, build new things, and persevere in their individuality.

What is your favorite quote?

“In theory, practice and theory are the same. In practice, they are not”. Tobey Crockett

Key Learnings:

  • Execution is everything: understand the problem before taking action in the right way
  • Systematically cutting costs doesn’t have a positive impact on company culture because small changes don’t solve larger issues
  • Taking the time to understand others’ points of view helps us break out of our own cognitive bubble
  • Things in theory and practice don’t always line up