A Passion for People – Moving From TA to P&C in the Startup World


To quote that catchy Paul Kelly song we probably all remember from that one superannuation commercial, from little things, big things grow.

And what is often the catalyst for that growth? People. At least that’s what Michael Delaney, Head of People and Culture at Preezie will certainly tell you.

After spending eight years in the agency world, Michael jumped over to talent acquisition and found his passion for taking little known startups and gearing them up to take on the big boys. His journey started in 2007 at a company who may have heard of called Salesforce. While they’re certainly no longer a small fish in the sea (they are now  a 40 billion dollar business), it was here Michael discovered his undeniable passion for helping things find their fullest potential and his love for P&C.

We sat down and had a chat with Michael as part of our Moving from Talent Acquisition to People & Culture podcast series. We got the lowdown on his journey from TA to P&C in the startup world, the power of good storytelling and why people are at the heart of it all.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Nothing like a good Aristotle quote to kick off a conversation.

With a passion for taking small startups and helping them blossom into multimillion dollar companies, Michael quickly discovered the most effective way to do that was finding the right people. As a self proclaimed “catalyst for business growth”, Michael realised this passion often left him doing more than his TA job description called for (not that he was complaining). 

From running training programs and coaching managers to organising business processes and structures, Michael knew that elevating staff performance was inherently critical to the success or failure of a business.

“I realised the whole gamut of the people side of the business was really what was driving me. I really wanted to be able to take a bigger picture view and elevate the people and culture function early in a startup to make it operate like a big business.

Don’t drop the plate!

Take a minute and imagine you’re at the circus (we promise this is going somewhere). The next act is the plate spinner who mesmerises you by how they manage to keep all those plates balanced on those little sticks –  this is exactly what P&C can be like, according to Michael.

When you have a passion for basically every aspect of business growth, the mental challenge of managing it all is something Michael finds himself facing on a daily basis.

With a never ending to-do list, understanding what is urgent versus what can be left safely spinning for a little longer in order to create the highest impact and deliver the quickest result, while keeping everything running to schedule, is a circus-worthy talent that Michael accredits having thanks to his time in TA.

“I do everything from the very, very beginning right through to off-boarding. When you’re doing that, literally everything is your responsibility.

“That ability to multitask and handle many different things at the one time has really held me in good stead in P&C … working out which is the stick that you have to move at that right time to stop that plate falling is something I think that I’ve taken with me every single day and probably will use every single day going forward.”

‘Have you got five minutes?’

Want to know how to really drive fear into the heart of any P&C person? Ask them if they’ve got a spare five minutes.

We all know that “five minutes” really means “hey, we’ve got a bigger problem” and these five simple words can take you from feeling right on track to taking an unexpected detour and spending the next few hours trying to find your way back.

You never know when this phrase might strike next! For Michael, balancing this constant fear of the unknown and the ability to shift priorities, while keeping everyone happy, is all about urgent versus important.  

“[It’s all about] working out how to prioritise and being able to shift those priorities whilst ensuring everybody understands why you’ve had to change things.  

“We know everybody believes their thing is the most important thing. I like to talk about the urgent versus important because everything is urgent and everything is important, but how do you balance the urgent and important to make sure that you are focusing on the right things first?”

But why?

To take a startup from just two people to thousands, you need a damn good story!

And while the task oriented of us out there might be happy with just a to-do list on how to get things done, after his time in TA, Michael realised context is king!

“When you’re in TA, you’re telling stories to everybody; to the market, to candidates, to managers, to the interview panel. You’re managing that story to keep everybody aligned and keep things moving along. In P&C, it’s very easy to just get stuck in the details.”

Whether it’s Nike making you feel you could compete in the next Olympics with just a pair of their shoes or Old Spice telling men that using their deodorant is all it takes to become the coolest person on the planet, it’s all about getting people excited to get involved. The same goes for internal operations, you need to get your staff excited to take the company to the next level.

“When you’re in a startup, you are literally starting from nothing … but now you’ve got someone coming in saying, we need a system and we need a process. It’s easy just to rattle off a whole bunch of things and say, we need this … but I learned that people who are not from P&C, they don’t understand why.

“If you don’t give people context and take them on the journey, then people won’t buy in to the level that you need them to.”

Team work makes the dream work

In a role as challenging as P&C, the important thing to always remember is you’re not alone.

Even with all his years experience, Micheal still finds himself turning to others for support and guidance and loves it!

“I have people that I can turn to at any given moment of the day and say, please help because I’m not sure what I need to do now. That for me has been just an absolute blessing.”

Having the maturity to step back and open yourself to collaboration with others enables you to stop sweating the small stuff and focus on what you are damn good at.

“Oftentimes early on you think, I can find this, I can solve it myself … you want to show that you’re capable, you’re credible and you’ve got the skills. If you do that, you will just drown in the stress.

“You don’t need to know everything. You can focus on the things that you are good at. This is something that I believe about coaching and building people up. It’s much easier to build up a strength that someone has because they’re interested in it and they’re engaged in it.”

When you have a clear head and you’re out there crushing it, you’ll find yourself reversing the roles and being able to help others.

“Someone will ask a question that I can help with and it’s wonderful to be in that really supportive, growth-oriented environment where everybody wants everyone to be successful.”

Inspired to go on your own journey from TA to P&C? Check out our Moving from Talent Acquisition to People & Culture podcast series for tips, tricks and expert advice on how to take those next steps in your career.

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