If you’re an HR professional who works in a small or mid-sized organization, maybe you’ve had this disarming experience: A well-meaning, but ill-informed, soul who’s just asked what you do for a living blinks and stares blankly at you for a moment, then says, “Why on earth would a small business need an HR department?”
Right away, you realize you have several possible options for responding to this appalling question. Sure, you could choose a lightning-fast demonstration of the awe-inspiring kick-boxing skills you’ve painstakingly developed during long and torturous hours at the gym. But there’s that pesky risk of legal fallout.
Alternatively, you could just turn and walk away, shaking your head and muttering under your breath about the long-suffering, totally misunderstood, and grievously underestimated the worth of the HR profession in general. But having made your way through the fight-or-flight responses, maybe you choose option three and decide to educate this poor, short-sighted individual about the vital roles HR plays in organizations of any and every size.
Option three may be a hard sell to some folks, but we know it’s the truth – and the best choice for leaders of small businesses who want to grow their organizations successfully.
The fact is that savvy business owners recognize that small companies encounter (or are at risk for) most of the same people-related issues their larger counterparts wrestle with. Sure, the scale may be different for a business with 90 employees versus one with 90,000, but the need for experienced and knowledgeable HR professionals is every bit as compelling.
The temptation for small businesses is to try and save money by waiting for growth to happen before hiring a dedicated HR professional. It’s easy to understand the savings motivation, but consider what happens when small business owners take that approach. The likelihood is that the various duties that would fall to HR will instead be delegated to other employees to handle.
For instance, if there’s a finance person (or bookkeeper or office manager), he or she would be a logical pinch-hitter for compensation, payroll and benefits issues. Tracking time and attendance also might be among the office manager’s or bookkeeper’s tasks.
What about recruiting new talent? Advertising for open positions, screening and interviewing applicants, hiring, and orientation or on-boarding probably would fall on the shoulders of the manager in whose department the vacancy existed. And what about employee relations … engaging workers and helping to build morale and motivation? Yes, well, what about that?
If you consider the many hats HR wears, even in a small business, it quickly becomes apparent that farming out those duties to even the best managers in other disciplines probably isn’t the most effective way to support an organization and its goals. Or to protect it from costly compliance problems.
For instance, it takes a well-informed and capable HR professional to ensure that people-related practices don’t become legal land mines for a business. Something so seemingly simple as placing an ad to fill a vacant position requires careful thought and construction to avoid inaccuracies in representing job duties or the potential for charges of discrimination because the wording didn’t conform to applicable guidelines.
When it comes to compensation, HR professionals are used to keeping tabs on the levels of pay that organizations need to offer in order to compete effectively for talent in their markets. HR pros also know how to stretch dollars earmarked for benefits programs, and they understand that attention must be paid to training, morale, the overall workplace environment, and countless other considerations if a company and its workforce are to thrive and succeed.
The reality is that even the smallest businesses stand to gain tremendously from having a dedicated HR professional on their teams. And they open their companies to enormous risk potential by ignoring that fact. So the next time someone asks why your SMB needs you, you might still be tempted to choose that kick-boxing response (on the inside), but you can confidently enlighten your companion about the indisputable importance of being HR.