How Do You ‘Structure’ an HR Department of One?

Applying the SHRM BoCK’s 'Structure of the HR Function’ technical competency on a small scale

By Paul Young, SHRM-SCP November 7, 2018
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​Paul Young, SHRM-SCP

​After 25 years of being part of larger HR organizations, I've recently "become" an HR department of one (DOO), a role I've found to be incredibly challenging and rewarding.

You need to be well-versed in HR and keep up with the latest happenings in the profession. Maintaining strong bonds with the other departments in the company is a must. Developing a diverse network of external HR professionals is another key to success. At times the job can be overwhelming, and all the weight and pressure is a heavy load.

It's also frequently amazing. Working as a DOO has been a great opportunity to put my own stamp on things and build a structure to best suit the goals of my organization and our stakeholders.

The other day, I was reviewing the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge to prepare for my role as a teacher of SHRM certification exam prep courses and get in the proper frame of mind before the course begins. I turned the page to Functional Area No. 6 of the HR Expertise technical competency, Structure of the HR Function.

My immediate reaction, now that I'm a DOO, was how I can improve the structure of my HR department? Two departments of one-half? Three departments of one-third? No matter how I slice or dice it, I still must end up with a headcount of one.

I can't be the only one who is wondering about this. There are always at least a couple of DOOs among the diverse students in my prep classes. How does this SHRM BoCK functional area and technical competency speak to us?

Rethinking What 'Structure' Means

In talking about structure, numbers are a part of the conversation, but not the whole of it. When the SHRM BoCK refers to "structure," it includes people, certainly (in this case, one person), but also the processes and activities involved in the delivery of HR-related services. 

When you think about structure, ask yourself these questions:

  • What's my role?
  • What's the best way to execute my responsibilities?
  • What activities do I perform and what do I outsource?
  • Will I involve other employees in task forces or projects?

In thinking about the overall HR service model, ask:

  • How will I deliver HR services to my constituencies?
  • How will I interact with my stakeholders?

Case Study: My 401(k) Plan

When I started at my current company a few years back, I inherited a clunky, ancient 401(k) plan. It was time-consuming and a burden to administer: Every employee transaction involved me, the employee and a piece of paper.  

Most employees don't want a paper form to fill out. Though several long-tenured employees hadn't experienced a better way, the newer employees—the ones I was hiring—had plenty of experience with smoothly operating 401(k) systems. Frankly, I was embarrassed to present the program to them. "Happy first day! Here are the keys to your 1975 AMC Pacer!" It'll get you where you're going, but it may not be fun.

I identified this as an opportunity to improve the delivery of this HR function.

The steps I took to change 401(k) program providers were straightforward: I implemented a request-for-proposal (RFP) process; invited several key employees to help with the selection process; partnered with the payroll department on how to move forward functionally; and partnered with the new 401(k) provider on a well-executed transition, which included employee education. As of today, we're about 10 months in, and I'm proud to offer this program. The employees are satisfied, the board is happy, and I'm thrilled with the provider's customer support.

Did I impact my HR DOO structure?

Sure! My employees are benefitting from an efficient and effective interface with their 401(k) plan. And I have more time and energy as an HR DOO to devote to my next project.

Paul Young, SHRM-SCP, is certification committee chair for Chicago SHRM. This article originally appeared as a post on the Chicago SHRM Blog

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