Tips for HR Departments of One

By John Scorza Jun 30, 2015
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LAS VEGAS—Being an HR department of one is a challenging, undervalued and often unappreciated job. But it’s interesting. And, have no doubt that it’s important, said Lori Kleiman, SHRM-SCP, president of consulting company HR Topics, during a June 29, 2015, concurrent session at the Society for Human Resource Management 2015 Annual Conference & Exposition. Kleiman, who specializes in HR for small businesses, offered some tips to beleaguered solo HR professionals.

HR departments of one often are viewed as administrative workers. The challenge is to change that assumption. “When executives think we’re just administrative,” she said, “we have to remind them that we’re the people who get their strategic action plans done.”

To stay focused on the strategic aspects of the job, be aware of, and aligned with, your organization and its priorities, Kleiman said. And to shed nonstrategic tasks, consider outsourcing tasks that are process-based, like payroll. “Outsourcing can be a very strategic decision,” she said. Some people might be wary of outsourcing, but there should be no reluctance. “Many departments of one may be hesitant because they fear they’ll outsource themselves out of a job,” she said. “I don’t think that’s possible.”

Kleiman advised solo HR practitioners to become “executives” within their organizations. In other words, be seen as a top leader. Typically, HR is the only department that interacts extensively with all the other departments in the company, she said, and that involvement puts HR in a unique position to contribute as a leader. It’s also essential for HR departments of one to “get out of your own space,” Kleiman said. Gain valuable knowledge and experience by tapping into external connections, such as peer-to-peer advisory groups, trusted advisers like the company’s employment attorney, and vendors.

Vendors need to be managed, too. “Vendor management is a key executive skill that we as a department of one truly have to develop,” Kleiman said. Solo HR practitioners have to know specifically what services their vendors are providing and what extra value they can provide. Make time once a year to sit down with your vendors to review the contracts, Kleiman said. And every three years prepare a request for proposal to hear what competing vendors could do for you, she said.

To work smarter, not harder, HR departments of one need to prioritize their initiatives and constantly evaluate what they’re doing and how it can be better, she said. Publicize initiatives and strategic goals so other people know what HR is working on. And embrace technology. There are many technological systems available to help departments of one. Kleiman said tech solutions that solo practitioners should have include time-keeping systems, applicant tracking software, self-service programs for employees and virtual personnel files.

John Scorza is associate editor of HR Magazine.

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