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Who needs HR anyway? When do start-ups and SMEs need to hire an HR professional?

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

Perhaps you’ve started a business and you’ve gone past the 10-employee mark and you’re wondering if you need an HR person on board. Or you’ve just been hired as CEO/MD of a growing organisation but there’s no HR person and you’re starting to see some issues arising that you need support with. Whatever the situation, many businesses start their life with no HR staff at all and then feel a need to hire someone in.

If you can relate so far and you’re about to hire your first HR person then please, take a minute and STOP!

I’ve worked in HR for over 20 years. I firmly believe that hiring the right HR team can take your business to the next level. I also believe that hiring the wrong HR team adds little more than additional headcount and cost.

Before you hire your first HR person you need to consider the actual business need.

Busy HR department; many responsibilities

What is this person going to be doing every day?

Are you looking for someone to:

  • Undertake the administration related to the staff in your organisation?

  • To manage and support employees and their issues?

  • Act as a trusted advisor, who the managers and senior team can use as a coach and sounding board

  • To implement initiatives such as new HR software, performance management processes, salary bands etc.

  • Focus on staff development and learning

  • To ensure HR is part of the business strategy as the company grows

Each of those scenarios requires a different level of knowledge and experience. It isn’t realistic to find one employee who can fulfil all those roles and it’s also not realistic to hire in 6 different people.

So what do you do?

How to fill the business need cost-effectively

freelance HR; contract HR; flexible work; remote work; part-time work

Hiring an amazing high-quality administrator will help any business. If I was running the show that would be my first hire. They wouldn’t have to be HR qualified or have an HR background – they would need to be an expert administrator capable of handing multiple tasks with a personable style.

All the other elements can be contracted out or hired on a part-time and remote basis.

If you need compliance documents such as employment contracts or employee handbooks then consider looking at a local HR services company. Contact your local federation for small businesses also as they may have these documents available to members also.

If you need strategic support and a deeper level of expertise you may not have the funds to hire a permanent CHRO/CPO (Chief HR Officer/Chief People Officer) and it’s likely that you don’t need that level of experience on a full-time permanent basis. Think strategically about how to fill the gaps you need. Do you have enough staff to warrant a full-time role? Does the person really need to be in an office or workspace?

Given the lack of flexibility in most organisations there are good HR people who are looking for part-time work, contract work, and remote work that fits around demanding personal lives.

Hiring freelancers could also be an option – look at sites like Upwork and Opentalent for finding talent.

Utilising all the available talent in the market could allow you to fulfil the business needs in an efficient and very cost-effective way.

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