*For the purposes of this article, when referring to admin/support/ops staff, this includes all People, Admin and Operations functions.
When we think of the technology industry, we think of innovation. As companies dedicated to progress, sleek tech startups are assumed to let this focus on innovation spread to all corners of their business. And in many ways, it’s true—tech startups invest heavily in their prop tech, software and product, understandably zeroed in on the stars of their business model.
However, a tech startup’s admin and support functions are often neglected, sometimes put on the back burner, especially in the early days. They are not thought of as essential and their potential contributions aren’t considered as complicated nor as value-driving as the work of those on the ‘front lines’ of the core product. But while tech companies may be able to rationalize this inattention, we know this form of cutting corners never works out well in any other context—a luxury sports car is no good if some parts are unbelievably sophisticated, but the mechanism that connects all the moving parts together runs like a Flintstones buggy. The danger is that the holes aren’t seen until it’s time to scale-up.
When scaling up, tech companies who don’t invest in a strong admin/ops function lose out, scrambling to repair critical operational holes in their business. This scramble can sometimes corrode morale and lead to unnecessary staff turnover. Key staff can end up carrying the extra burden of admin and ops on top of their full-time role because senior leadership haven’t appreciated the intensity and critical nature of this work and the people-power needed to perform it well. As a company scales and becomes more complex, proper process infrastructure only becomes more crucial, and building that from scratch at scale-up stage is MUCH harder than setting up a strong foundation in the beginning.
The days of admin staff simply being note takers are long gone. Today, admin are an integral part of any company’s engine, wearing a multitude of hats and delivering major rewards when properly fostered. Here are four key reasons why tech startups who want to level up should invest in their admin.
Admin staff are a soft skills powerhouse. The tech industry has a reputation for efficiency, but not necessarily warmth–despite how necessary it is for tech startups to deal with and understand people. Admin serve as the warm, human face of a company, and are soft skills powerhouses when it comes to written and verbal communication, dealing with difficult personalities, delivering good and bad news and recognizing the need for improvements–like a need for more diversity–in a team. With great negotiation and persuasion skills, strong, personable admin can serve as deal-sealers between companies and clients or internally between teams.
Tech-specialized admin are out there. Admin are more than calendar keepers. Today, admin are not only trained and made more efficient through the use of a variety of tech-based tools, many admin employees have a passion for tech and have dedicated their careers to working in the field. They have deep knowledge of the ins-and-outs of specific products, services, or areas within the tech world, and can serve as informed surrogates for other employees during key meetings or briefs. Their enthusiasm for their work can also help them sell clients on the products and services they need, or products that could be the most helpful based on a client’s future goals.
Specialized admin set the foundation for optimization. Because your specialized admin staff have a wealth of understanding of their work, they know exactly what character traits and skills to look for in other admin workers. If your company is looking to expand its admin team, this means your employees can help you hire the best candidates and reap powerful rewards. Once hires are made, your admin staff can also train new employees on how to use the most impactful tech tools for the job.
Good Admin are agile and adaptable. If your company’s teams were literal superheroes, admin staff would be The Chameleon, turning into whatever the business needed at any given moment–a recruiter, an ambassador, an organizer, a constant supporter of your staff and your business. Where other, more technical teams are highly specialized, admin are jacks of all trades, filling in gaps where needed. Connecting senior leadership with employees and teams, admin ensure that everything and everyone is working in harmony. Businesses that under-appreciate this quality soon realise their error when poor communication causes their teams to fragment, and productivity suffers as employees with no relevant experience attempt to juggle admin responsibilities.
To paraphrase Perry Timms, author of Transformational HR: How Human Resources Can Create Value and Impact Business Strategy, great products can always be replicated by others, but great people cannot. Administrative staff who are appreciated and nurtured in the tech industry work hard, learn strategically and contribute significantly to the company’s long term growth. Smart tech companies understand the importance of their admin teams, and subsequently avoid disruption as they scale up.