HR Leads Business

May 29, 2018 | Tim Lemke, HRCI Staff Writer

Surviving as an HR Office of One

You are a new company. You have a revolutionary product, a wonderful team of employees and tremendous growth potential.

But there’s one thing you don’t have: a human resources operation.

At many smaller and newer organizations, people and talent management is virtually ignored, potentially leading to chaotic situations when problems do arise. Thankfully, it’s possible to outsource some of this work to professionals who know HR inside and out.

Amanda Haddaway , SPHR, is the CEO of HR AnswerBox, a boutique business consultancy in Frederick, Md..  She will speak on June 18 at the SHRM Annual Conference and Exposition, presenting “Flying Solo: Top Tips for Succeeding as an HR Department of One.”

 “I joke with my friends,” she says, “that no one ever calls me because they are having a good day.”


Not too Small to Fail

Large or small, every organization needs help with things like organizing payroll, or managing retirement or benefit plans. But there’s also the people component. Haddaway says that 50 employees is a common threshold for when a company realizes it needs HR help, but she’s been known to assist firms with as few as two workers.

Even companies with just a handful of employees can encounter the employee relations problems that big firms face every day. Sexual harassment complaints. Allegations of a hostile workplace. Computer misuse and cybersecurity concerns. It’s all possible, no matter the company size. In fact, small companies are often vulnerable to HR troubles because their founders lack experience managing a staff.

“The founders are really passionate about the product or service they are bringing to market, but that doesn’t mean that they know how to manage people,” Haddaway says. “They are entrenched in doing the work, they get some money, and then they are in a fast-moving growth phase. A lot of time when they bring all these employees on board, they have all these kinds of problems.”

Haddaway says young companies should not assume that they are immune to human resource problems simply because everyone appears to be getting along. Moreover, even if everyone is happy, employees still seek some level of guidance on company policies.

“I’ve had more than one conversation with a company leader who said, ‘I’m surprised, I thought everyone liked one another,’” Haddaway says. “It’s OK to have that Mom and Pop atmosphere, but in many cases people want that kind of structure. Just having some basics in place can be really helpful so people know what can be expected.”


The Suite of Services

A boutique HR shop may offer a wide range of services that include crafting employee policies, addressing claims of harassment, dealing with performance issues and aiding in difficult conversations and recruiting. A consultant like Haddaway may also perform trainings in harassment or other issues, will also know when an attorney or experienced investigator may be needed.

“Growing businesses don’t need an enormous HR team; even just one person can get the job done,” says Matt Straz, the CEO of Namely, in Entrepreneur magazine. “Eventually, when the organization gets big enough, a larger HR department will be a necessity. But until a full team becomes necessary, a one-person HR department can be an amazing force.”

And sometimes, it’s not a heavy lift that’s needed. A firm like HR AnswerBox can simply be available to answer basic HR questions, thus potentially staving off larger problems.

“I’d much rather you ask the question rather than have a problem where you need me to come in and fix it,” Haddaway says.

One perhaps underrated role of an HR consultant is ensuring that a business is complying with the array of regulations on business at the federal, state and local level. Haddaway says that she has noticed an increase in small firms targeted by the Department of Labor for violations.

“They got kind of smart,” Haddaway says of the DOL. “They realized that some of these smaller employers were not in compliance and they became easy targets.”

Proactive vs Reactive

Haddaway laments the fact that she is often called only after a problem arises. She wishes new and smaller firms were more proactive in their approach to people management. In the last year or so, she says she has seen an uptick in sexual harassment complaints at firms, perhaps due to some high-profile cases in the news. She has founder herself conducting more sexual harassment training for employees and managers, especially since they are becoming mandatory in some locations.

Haddaway said one new focus is helping organizations build a culture that fosters respect and professionalism, thus potentially staving off problematic scenarios.

“If you build your culture in an effective way, you can often prevent some of these claims and allegations,” she says.

Haddaway is one of many HRCI-certified professionals headlining the SHRM conference, June 17-20 in Chicago. Also, be sure to visit HRCI at Booth #1340.