Top 13 Priorities for an HR Department of One

What is one of the top priorities for an HR department of 'one' and what is a solution to this priority?

To help you best prioritize your HR roles as a one-person department, we asked HR leaders and CEOs this question for their best advice. From building solid processes to being ready to resolve conflicts, there are several things to focus on as your top priorities when running an HR department of one.

Here are 13 top priorities for an HR department of one:

  • Build Solid Processes That Help Deliver Value at Scale
  • Learn The Business
  • Find Resources and a Community To Support You
  • Seek Tech Efficiencies
  • Keep a Pulse on Corporate Culture
  • Empower Employees To Contribute
  • Continue Your Education and Skills Building
  • Build Community
  • Understand Financial Statements
  • Make Allies With Other Department Leaders
  • Engage and Collaborate With Your Leadership Team
  • Retain Talent
  • Be Ready To Resolve Conflicts

Build Solid Processes That Help Deliver Value at Scale

A generalist position usually means that you'll be expected to act as a business partner for managers, and a problem solver for employees. Therefore you want to build easy and scalable HR processes that focus on the basic touch points of employee experience, recruitment, Admin & Payroll, Onboarding, Performance Review, Training, Engagement Survey, and Offboarding.

The goal is to make the information clear and accessible to all stakeholders and bring expertise/coaching during 1on1 or group sessions when needed. Monitoring engagement surveys will help you identify room for improvement, and prioritize HR Projects that need your attention

Anne-Laurence ZANCLAN, HR Consultant for Startups and SMEs at Talent Rocket

Learn The Business

One of the top priorities for an HR department of one is to know the business, as the role is strategic and tactical. Many pitfalls that HR practitioners have is that they do not understand the business in which they are servicing. Thus they become reactive versus proactive to the organizational changes. For HR to be an asset, it must understand some fundamentals: How does the organization make money; who are the stakeholders; who are the competitors; what is the organization's competitive advantage, and what is the culture.

By having a good understanding, then HR will be in a position of change and have built credibility amongst the leadership. This results in collaboration with the CEO, CFO, and senior leadership to build the right organizational structure. In addition, to supporting the basic human needs of the workforce.

Doretha Bailey, Director & Head of HR at Lynx Franchising

Find Resources and a Community To Support You

While there are many organizations that have a single HR practitioner for their human resource responsibilities, this shouldn't necessarily mean that the person needs to "go it alone." A top priority for any HR DOO (department of one) is to find your resources as well as a community of other HR professionals to support you in your efforts.

There are many great resources through SHRM, vendors, and other sources to help with answering questions and address unique issues that may arise in the workplace. Also having a strong network of other HR professionals in various HR disciplines can be beneficial for professional, personal, and moral support as HR can often be a lonely place, especially for those working as a sole HR practitioner.

Jeffery Palkowski, Workforce Relations Manager at University of Wisconsin-Madison

Seek Tech Efficiencies

Small businesses are often powered by an HR department of one. What happens when the company’s employee touchstone is out sick, on leave, or stretched beyond capacity? We’ve worked with many organizations facing this situation and found that what these leaders want most is tech efficiencies. In this case, you should seek scalable, secure, two-way tech communications and self-service HR portals where employees can easily update their personal information, manage PTO, view or download paystubs, clock in and out, and view schedules.

Choose a self-service portal that works for both your desk and “deskless” employees - those who don’t do their work from a desk or computer. When we think about creating an inclusive environment that is secure, compliant, and efficient - we’re talking about selecting tech developed for the most marginalized to ensure all employees have access to the same solutions.

Muriel Clauson, CEO and Co-Founder of Anthill

Keep a Pulse on Corporate Culture

Human Resources has a zillion things to do on any given day and time management is how an HR team of one thrives. The number one priority is to keep a pulse on the corporate culture. What does corporate culture mean to you and me--it's the people!
Staying engaged with your most valuable asset is one way to have fewer exit interviews and more stay interviews. Automation is one solution that can help time-starved HR professionals stay organized. Try out customized automated tools to ask your talent how they are doing and to find out how you can assist in their career development.

Michelle Pasqual, Partner of Marjon Advisors, LLC

Empower Employees to Contribute

Influence and relationships occur best face-to-face. Leaders appeal to others and engage others through relationships. Technology is well-suited to organization and planning. Use technology for scheduling, payment processing, performance evaluation, etc. Empower employees to take care of their own, personal business using technology (e.g., an employee self-service portal, HR Information System, Social media). This enables self-expression, demonstrates respect, requires self-advocacy, and builds autonomy.

Rely upon yourself and your people skills to address complicated, interpersonal, and social issues. You are essential personnel. Your emotional intelligence and analytical skills serve as your strongest assets. Most other functions can be supported by technology. You, however, serve a vital, interpersonal role. Do not forget that.

Deborah Waddill, President of Restek Consulting, LLC

Continue Your Education and Skills Building

One cannot be a “know it all”. I lean heavily on SHRM and HR-related sources to find my answers when it comes to compliance. Participating in training, webinars/seminars, and HR networking opportunities, I get my sense of having the department of all HR sectors and staying relevant and competitive.

As a department of one, the most important priority is expanding the skills, continuing the education, learning new IT tools, and staying on top of government and state-changing employment-related laws and regulations. Ultimately, be prepared for major workforce changes that can be brought by a global pandemic or other life-changing events.

Lilith Kirsh, VP Admin and HR Director at VAALCO ENERGY

Build Community

Being a team of one in HR is one of the most challenging jobs there can be. Not only do you carry the responsibility for all HR functions within your organization, but you also have to work extra to find collaboration. HR situations are often grey and require consultation. The best thing an HR department of one can do is find external resources and support. Mentors, peers, SHRM chats - Whatever it is, there should always be a place to turn when there isn't an immediate answer or solution to your business's challenges or needs readily available. None of us holds all the answers individually, especially in the ever-evolving world of compliance and employment law. Lean on others where you can.

Neely Tubati-Alexander, Founder and HR Consultant at Culture Connective

Understand Financial Statements

Many HR professionals have not ever seen their company's HR financial statements and even if they had, they would not know how to decipher them.  For HR professionals to be able to influence at the management level, they need to speak the language of commercial and business priorities, this is crucial. I would recommend all HR professionals when they reach at least Advisor level to take a Finance for Non-Finance Training, then continually practice this skill set with their own company's financial statements.

Thanj Kugan, Founder & Consultant at Visible HR - Boutique HR Consultancy

Make Allies With Other Department Leaders

When you're an HR department of one, it's essential to have allies and partners with other department leaders.  I've seen lots of HR leaders tank in under a year because they didn't have functional partners in finance, operations, and management. There's an allure to being the only HR person at a small business because you think you'll have the power to change or implement whatever is needed. However, the reality is that you won't get much accomplished without buy-in from other key organizational stakeholders.

Katie Parker, Founder and CEO of Startup Your HR

Engage and Collaborate With Your Leadership Team

As a department of one for a hospitality group with over 450 employees in NYC and Washington DC, it was critical to have strong relationships and alignment with my leadership team, ensuring they were "deputized HR managers".

Spend time building relationships with your department leads and managers, listen to their concerns and collaborate with them on policies and processes. Empower them with information and help them understand the WHY. Continually coach and support your managers, being a resource for them to have direct conversations with their team that are in alignment with company culture and procedure, rather than employees "leapfrogging" over their managers to HR with their issues.

Dina Friedel, VP, People & Culture

Retain Talent

Maniacal focus on retaining talent is paramount and delivers the greatest impact to the organization and allows HR to be a more strategic partner. If you keep individuals highly engaged and looking forward to coming to work each day, you will yield increased productivity and less call-outs, not to mention, minimize the investment in recruiting costs and time. Tenure has declined over recent years, however, creating individual development plans and visible career paths have proven to be effective in increasing retention and employee satisfaction. With limited HR resources, doing less is key to doing much more.

Michele Kalas, Vice President of Mattress Firm

Be Ready To Resolve Conflicts

HR is often the first place people go in an organization to resolve conflict. These conflicts are often over ideologies, resources, competing priorities, or misunderstandings to name a few. HR can reduce or mitigate conflict by preparing members of the organization with the communications tools to properly communicate and resolve disagreements. Policies, coaching, forms, and decision trees are all helpful in helping staff resolve conflict before it escalates by addressing foreseeable causes of conflict. Coaching, training, and facilitating conversations are but some of the ways HR can lubricate conversations and reduce the natural friction organizations in their day-to-day.

Ray Tebout, Director of People and Practices of Exodus Transitional Community

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