Karen Austin, HR Consultant
- Whether you have formal HR policies and procedures in place
- Whether you have a person, or people, whose job is to formally manage HR
Two cases spring to mind that illustrate the importance of this topic. The first case was working with the head of a small, new, start-up charity and the second with the CEO of a larger, more established organisation, that had grown organically.
Having formal HR policies and procedures in place
The head of the small start-up was adamant that he would not need formal procedures until after taking on more staff. His feeling was that he would get employment contracts confirmed, grow the business first and then think about formalising procedures. On the other hand, the CEO of the established organisation was looking back and wishing he had formalised HR policies before his business grew as, 5 years on, he was coming up against strong resistance from the 50 plus staff who were clearly happy with their set customs and practices.
Neither of these organisations had 80 staff but both were in need of HR policies in some form or another. Furthermore, they demonstrated that it is much simpler to lay a foundation of formal policies before you grow; leading me to conclude that the magic number here is closer to 1 than 80.
Whether you have a person, or people, whose job is to formally manage HR
This is a much more interesting question as many of the organisations we work with have the HR responsibility sitting, along with a host of other responsibilities, with the CEO or equivalent role. In many cases this works and works well. Indeed, with the small start up venture example used above it clearly made no sense for the head of business to devolve HR responsibilities.
But, the CEO of the established charity was clearly struggling to balance the more strategic parts of his role while responsible for day-to-day people issues. These examples would suggest that there is a tipping point at which it makes sense to re-evaluate and consider ‘formalising’ how people are managed. We would argue however that it is not necessarily when you recruit staff member 80.
I have had many discussions with managers about delegating in general, and always fall back on the same initial questions to challenge the decision to delegate or not. These questions also seem apt when considering whether, as the head of an organisation, you should also be the HR person:
- Who can do the job instead of me?
- Who can do the job better than me?
- Who can do the job at less expense than me?
- Would the delegation result in someone else’s development?
I would also add this admittedly cheesy addition to the above:
- Am I able to put the ‘HR agenda at the top of my agenda?’
It is common for us to discuss with CEO’s their frustrations when trying to balance HR with running an organisation and many of them feel that when they do make time for HR it is because something has happened which they need to react to.
So, how many staff does it take to change a people management structure?
I’m still not convinced that there is a magic number that should trigger the devolution of HR. Perhaps it is more a tipping point, reached when reactive HR is becoming the norm and the CEO is no longer able to focus on the strategic HR that will carry the organisation forward, a tipping point, like many things that is different for every organisation.
Certainly within the start-up business I referenced earlier, the tipping point had not been reached. The fundamental priority was to get more staff on board, without which there was no operational activity, and in effect the HR agenda was the only agenda. With the established charity, the growth was only going to come from the CEO getting out and about, fundraising and generating growth and so the tipping point had clearly been reached, but with a reluctant and untested management team, it was proving difficult for him to step back despite it making more sense for the managers to manage.
Experience tells us that it is not the number of staff you have and there is no one size fits all approach. While it makes more sense for you to be doing HR then do it, as long as:
- You continually prepare for the day when you need to fall back and focus on something else and expect your managers to manage.
- Even if you only recruit one manager, ensure that from day one you are testing their suitability for people management at interview.
- From the start, you set the expectation that when the time is right, you will hand over the reigns.
In the meantime, work with your managers and staff to engage them in HR so that, when the time comes, it is easier for you to step back.