How Small HR Teams Can Stop Fighting Fires and Start Strategizing

Carol Anderson

Founder, Anderson Performance Partners

In today's mega-organizations, Human Resources is typically large enough to have specialists to cover the myriad responsibilities related to strategy, process and compliance. In fairness, these specialists bring very different skill sets: from the financial role in benefits administration, to the legal guru in employee relations and compliance, to the statistical analyst in compensation, and to the tactical thinker in human resource development that helps the organization strategically improve human performance.

Smaller organizations do not usually have this luxury, so the HR professional becomes a generalist, but with the same responsibilities as those in specialty roles. To compound the challenge, after the tasks and duties required to maintain the basics in regulatory and financial compliance, as well babysitting managers who don't manage effectively, there is little time left to do the important work of the strategic HR partner.

HR's Partnership Beyond Administration and Compliance

The danger of getting mired in administrative work is that no one is looking at the human aspect of the organization and asking questions like, "Do we have the talent we need, and are they performing where we need them to perform?" Left to their own devices, business owners or executives may make a habit of fighting fires, rather than looking at the big questions and strategic HR planning.

It is no secret that organizations today seek the utopia of employee engagement, as there is a measurable, empirical positive impact to the bottom line. Yet, they fail to recognize the value of HR partnership above and beyond administration and compliance. Such as hiring for the tangible skills, rather than the more esoteric qualities of linking the work of the employees to the business of the organization.

This is a pitfall for small business HR, both for the administrator who is comfortable in the admin work, and for the business partner who wants to be strategic. In the first case, the organization remains without an HR partner. In the second, the organization will probably lose the partner they have.

It takes creativity to get a handle on this overwhelmingly complex job. Here are some ideas to consider.

1) Build Your Relationships

Meet your executive peers on a level field. Behave as one of the executive team, and make sure everyone understands the breadth of your role—to help the organization by building a high performing workforce.

2) Don't Accept Responsibility That Isn't Yours

If you are spending time chasing recalcitrant managers who don't want to do their performance reviews, you are allowing leadership to abdicate this crucial responsibility. The question to that manager's boss is, "Is it important to your business that the manager completes these reviews?" If he says it is not, perhaps you need to look at the value of your program. But if you play "HR Police," you've taken on a role that isn't yours.

3) Use Internal Resources

There may be work that doesn't need to be done by HR, but has historically been plopped in HR's lap. Challenge this. If your small HR team is doing Payroll or benefits administration, look carefully as to whether or not this could be placed with finance, freeing HR for the important partnership and strategic HR decisions.

4) Engage External Resources

Know your limits. Much of the partnership work is actually human development—a profession that sits alongside HR, but has deep knowledge of change management, leadership development and accountability systems. If this isn't your background, bring in your own partner, but keep it inside HR. Too often these experts come in around HR, and cause confusion with conflicting messaging. Take the time to learn from the expert, and make sure you are always part of the dialogue.

5) Build in Accountability

Your favorite question should become, "And how are you going to make that happen?" HR doesn't make things happen in organizations, leaders do. If you are being asked to "make it happen," make sure to communicate the authority you need, and that your boss will back you up when you exert that authority.

6) Keep the Humanity in HR

Even a small HR team can position themselves as aligning the work of the employees to the business need, by being smart about what to do and what not to do. Doing it all is rarely possible, but creatively finding alternatives for those tasks that don't drive business can go a long way to help.

Photo: Creative Commons

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