I have a sinking feeling when I hear that a young company is hiring their first HR leader. I’ve seen this story play out many times. Too often it goes awry, ending months later with everyone frustrated. The people involved are well intentioned. And I get it. The team is growing. People issues are cropping up. The internal running of the company is becoming a distraction. Hiring a multi-talented HR person seems like the right next move.
I often get calls from headhunters looking for names of potential candidates. The call usually goes something like this: “I have a client, early stage, led by an entrepreneur. The company is looking for a Director of HR. Someone who is strategic and can also get their hands dirty in the day-to-day stuff. Do you know anyone?”
These people are extremely difficult to find. Developing business strategy is a completely different skill set from handling the multitude of day-to-day issues.
The company thinks they need this role, but maybe they don’t. When I get one of these calls, I try to orchestrate a conversation with the CEO so I can share my experience.
What does HR do?
Having run HR teams in my past life, I know there is no limit to the things that keep HR busy. The question becomes, how much of that work is adding measurable value? And for the work that needs to be done, who is best to do it?
The bulk of the work done within HR falls into six main categories:
- Paperwork (The necessary legal and government stuff)
- Finding talent
- Employee TLC (Making sure everyone is treated well)
- Enforcing policies
- Monitoring and coaching managers
- People Strategy (culture, compensation, etc)
Can all this get done without someone holding a title that includes HR? Sure it can. Each item on the list is distinctly different and requires unique skills. The person who loves doing paperwork isn’t likely your best culture expert. An exceptional recruiter is not the best person to help managers boost their skills.
So what’s an alternative to consider?
Instead of hiring a single HR person, get creative. Leverage the following four strategies:
Raise the expectations of your managers
A manager’s primary job should be to lead and manage their team.
Hiring people. Creating an environment where people can excel. Saying goodbye to people from time to time.
Too often we set a low bar for people managers and fail to provide them with the necessary skill development. As a result, HR picks up the slack. Invest in building stronger managers and your need for HR will dwindle.
Send paperwork to your finance and administration people – they love this stuff!
There is immense overlap in the administrative elements of HR and work done in finance. Finance already has access to much of the company’s confidential information. And they don’t find managing data and paperwork daunting.
Leverage external coaches and consultants with laser focus
There will be areas where your team doesn’t have the skills or bandwidth to check all the necessary boxes. Leverage external consultants and coaches to fill the gap. You will get a higher quality of output when the right expert gets mapped to the right problem. One warning: watch for scope creep!
Build a manager support team
Managers will need help. Recruiting new talent is one example. When it comes time to hire, start building a “manager support team” rather than an HR department (or talent team… or employee experience team). As the name suggests, this team has one purpose. They lighten the load for managers and provides targeted skill sets. Keep this team lean. Build it with people who are experts with the skills you need.
Intrigued by this idea? I coach leaders on building a strong foundation unique to their growing business.