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HR Lessons from the Guys with No HR

Chad Savoy

VP of Sales, Datadog

Many small and growing businesses we deal with don’t have a large HR presence. They might have a tiny team, or a single go-to-guy, or nobody at all. Some call in consultants for the trickier stuff, some do it all themselves. And because they still manage to function as businesses and none of their employees have imploded for want of HR attention, we thought they might have a useful lesson or two to share.

Managers can manage managing

Many of the things the HR department is called on to oversee are the things that managers used to deal with before HR was invented. And they’re the very things that managers in companies with no HR departments DO deal with, on a daily basis.

Tim not pulling his weight? Manager chats about expectations. Lydia disrupting her co-workers? Manager pulls her aside. Andy defenestrates a chair? Manager sends him home and prepares the paperwork. Most of the day-to-day people stuff can be easily dealt with by line managers. Or avoided completely with a bit of groundwork...

Lay the foundation. Of people bricks.

Of course you’re going to hire the right people in the first place: competent people who’ll do their jobs well and who are smart enough to regulate themselves. Good people generally don’t do stupid things. If they do screw up on occasion, they learn from their mistakes and are unlikely to do it again. They’re also unlikely to disrupt their co-workers, be absent without explanation or make off with all the Post-Its when they do come in, so that’s a few more potential problems avoided.


When you have no HR department, managers need to step up and deal with issues that arise in their teams without deferring or referring to 'the people people'. So steal a few of those ideas:

Give managers authority to deal with every day people issues. Let them make decisions about their teams – hiring, developing, motivating - and the information, training and support they need to do it properly.

Have good systems in place so everyone’s doing the same things the same way, and not wasting time figuring out how to do it. You don’t need a team running around chasing up performance review forms if the formal review process is automated and informal performance discussions happen daily.

Issues shouldn’t be allowed to spiral out of control and beyond the capability of your managers. Have detailed guidelines for resolving conflicts, and be sure everyone knows how and when to escalate the more serious stuff.

And on the above, create common-sense policies that are easy to understand and live by. Involve managers and employees if you can – you can’t underestimate the importance of buy-in and ownership when it comes to getting and keeping people on board.

Keep detailed records in the kind of language that makes sense to anyone who needs to read it, and have them readily available. Avoiding an overdose of HR-ese means the information is accessible to everyone, and actually keeping records where they can be quickly got-at is just common sense.

Without the HR department acting as an intermediary, everyone needs to be more proactive about protecting their rights and meeting their responsibilities. Know what’s in your contracts, document all interactions of note (performance reviews, warnings, changes in KPIs or role requirements), and make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them. (In short: to be awesome).

Useful HR is useful

Of course most HR departments make a valuable contribution to the companies they support. But HR’s time is finite and those specialist skills are better suited specialised problems than making sure people are doing what they were hired to do.

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