A grown up solution for a scaling tech company
About the company: Wefarm is the world’s largest platform for small-scale farmers. They empower over 20,000 farmers with a community network and readily accessible information that increases their buying and selling power. In recent years, Wefarm has grown from an SMS platform to a fully-digital platform with a remote team across nine countries.
Chief Operating Officer
The Challenge: Scaling Faster Than Their Systems
Wefarm COO Michelle Davies is no stranger to the growing pains of a startup. “I love the building stage of business,” she said. “I love getting them set for that scale and success.” Michelle has worked for high-growth organisations in the past and came to Wefarm in 2020 with a strategic vision.
Since then, her role has evolved from VP People to VP Operations to COO. She’s worked on the people, financial, legal and operations sides of the business while leading a team that’s grown from 40 to 55 people and counting. When Michelle first came on board, she inherited processes and systems that worked but weren’t set up for long-term success. “What was clear to me — having done that journey over and over again — was that they were going to break as soon as we hit 100 people” she said.
For the first four years, Wefarm was an SMS-only platform in East Africa, which allowed farmers to share knowledge and buy inputs. Their goal was always to go digital, moving with the needs of their audience, and they made that transition in 2021. During that time, they brought on front end developers and other employees that were needed to build their new fully-digital, farmer-first platform.
Wefarm was undergoing a product transformation: They were growing in numbers, and their team was expanding across the globe after also making the decision in early 2021 to build a fully remote team for the future. But their systems were treating everyone as if they were in the same country, which made running payroll and managing benefits difficult. They needed a platform with a user-friendly global calendar to manage the team’s various schedules and local holidays.
Since everything had been built piecemeal, they had separate systems for HR, recruitment, and performance reviews, and some processes like onboarding were stuck in spreadsheets. With that came a lack of security. There was no single source of truth or organisational method for when an employee was offboarded, so they couldn’t confirm they’d been correctly removed from the team’s communication channels and systems.
The software they were using also couldn’t differentiate between teams and departments, so they couldn’t give managers the appropriate access controls. When a manager needed to conduct a performance review or even locate an employee’s phone number, they had to contact HR and get them to access the system, adding hours of manual work that Michelle knew could — and should — be automated.
Tedious manual tasks overwhelming People Operations
Software that couldn’t keep up with their global growth
A collection of systems with poor user experience
If the team can spend an extra hour a day talking to the other humans in Wefarm, that is much better value than spending an hour doing admin every day.
The Solution: Future-Proofing Through Automation
Michelle knew she wanted to implement the right HR platform early on; one that could grow with the team instead of holding them back. “It was not a long vesting process because I’ve worked with a lot of the other software on the market, so I knew what I was looking for and what was not going to work for us as we scaled,” she said.
With their old HR system, they had to manually reallocate and take down balances for each employee’s holiday accruals and rollovers every year, which was typically a day of work. This year, with Personio’s automation, it only took them about 20 minutes to make minor adjustments.
Now, their team can use that saved time to focus on what matters. “If the team can spend an extra hour a day talking to the other humans in Wefarm, that is much better value than spending an hour doing admin every day,” said Michelle.
Using Personio has also increased their business security. Instead of dealing with disorganised spreadsheets and worrying about human error, they use Personio’s visual onboarding and offboarding checklists to confirm that important tasks have been completed, which is a must-have for a company that’s developing its teams as quickly as Wefarm.“
My goal is always to automate as much as possible,” said Michelle. “It’s fundamentally against my belief of what work is if you hire someone to do repetitive admin because you can’t be bothered to automate it. It doesn’t give people ownership or autonomy.”
Michelle also said that Personio has made working as a remote team easier. The built-in calendars allow everyone to see their local holidays, and the People Ops team can also add new holidays and countries to the global calendar as they grow (they’ve added three in the past month).
Time-saving automation and streamlined processes
User-friendly calendars for a fully-remote team
A single source of truth with improved access controls
Making the Switch
One of Michelle’s concerns was that team members weren’t using their original HR system. Managers couldn’t get what they needed out of it, so they gave up on it and employees would only use it to request holidays. Moving from their old system to Personio wasn’t just about making things easier for their People team. They wanted to bring in a system that all team members would and could use with ease.
According to Michelle, the transition went smoothly. They were able to consolidate the standard eight-week schedule, and their team members only had one or two questions during the transition. Most employees were signing in and using it on their own, right away. It’s a small thing, but Michelle said employees were especially excited about being able to see how much holiday they had left, which is something their old systems didn’t do.
Their Favourite Element of Personio
Michelle describes Personio as “the grown-up start-up version” of other HR software she’s used in the past. “If you’re genuinely a start-up and it’s more about it looking flashy and you’re just in the UK, there are start-up tools that are fine,” she said. “But if you actually want to start looking at the numbers, data and reports in the background, Personio will scale with that.”
Knowing that Personio is investing in further development means Michelle doesn’t have to worry about switching systems again in a year. “We have a shared vision of the future,” she said. “You are building a lot of that stuff, and I can see you’re working towards it, and that’s where I want to be. I would love to have everything in one place; it makes everybody’s life easier.”
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