The human resources department has become an interesting litmus test for progress.
There’s a perception in the professional world that HR departments at newer companies focus more on their employees than they ever have before, whereas older companies run their HR as if it did two things: hire and fire people.
Whichever the case is, these two examples don’t do much for helping startups decide how they should build a strong HR department.
We spoke with HR experts across the country to get their insight and expertise on how to build a strong HR department from the ground up.
#1 Become Obsessed with the Employee Experience
Most companies can give you a data-driven breakdown of who their customers are, what they want and how to most effectively reach them.
Unfortunately, companies rarely apply the same principles to learn about their employees, said Sonia Fiorenza, senior vice president of communications and engagement strategies at SocialChorus.
“It’s common for companies to focus heavily on the customer experience and journey, mapping every touchpoint and analyzing how this impacts the organization. However, they haven’t put the same focus on their employee experience. More companies must realize the benefit of taking a similar approach with employees.”
The HR department is a crucial part of this process, Fiorenza said. They are the lynchpin in identifying opportunities for engagement and creating a methodology for finding the right people and keeping them.
“Led by HR, they should bring together multiple disciplines, including communications, IT and others to optimize every touch point in the employee journey so that employees feel more informed, valued and engaged to help the company succeed,” Fiorenza said.
#2 Bring in a Consultant to Lay the Groundwork
Employee engagement is great, you might be thinking, but how do we actually create an HR department from scratch?
Jill Santopietro Panall, owner of 21Oak HR Consulting, says hiring a consultant is an effective way to understand who a company is and how the human resources department should play a role in hiring, firing, compliance and employee engagement.
“For a company without any HR department at all or a company that is too small to sustain or afford a full-time HR person, the first step is often to bring in an experienced HR consultant to examine their practices and compliance and help build a strong foundation of appropriate HR practices and processes,” she said. “Those are often executing in conjunction with finance or office administration folks.”
Once the consultant has built up sufficient knowledge of how the company functions and what its needs are, he or she should then go about making the first HR hires.
Laura Handrick, an HR analyst at Fit Small Business, says a good consultant will help you understand how to avoid big missteps early on.
“An HR consultant can educate the business owners about basic HR labor law and payroll best practices, so that they prevent common HR issues, like discrimination or payroll mistakes from happening in the first place,” Handrick said.
#3 Look for HR Candidates With SPHR/SHRM-SCP Certification
As your company decides who it will bring into its HR department, Panall advised looking for HR leadership candidates with professional certifications. It’s not just about credentials, either; those who get their SPHR or SHRM-SCP show they’re serious about their expertise.
“I am personally biased towards seeing both a strong HR experience as well as some evidence of commitment to the profession, such as an HR designation like PHR/SPHR, SHRM-CP/SCP, or a benefits or payroll certification like CBS, CEBS or CPP,” she said.
An SPHR (Senior Professional of Human Resources) certification, for example, requires that the recipient take a 175-question test to be completed in three hours.
As your department evolves and matures, you may want to think about hiring a senior exec with a doctorate in a related area of study, Panall said.
“For the larger companies, seeking an experienced HR leader with a PhD in Industrial Organizational Psychology may be desirable, as it indicates a very deep knowledge of the people process, an understanding of data analytics and trends in the workplace and an ability to help set organization-wide strategy,” she said.
More HR Advice to Come: Looking Ahead to Part 2
Building a strong human resources department takes time, research and an acute desire to make sure your employees are just as happy as your customers.
Our next post in this two-part series about HR departments will dig into other interesting topic areas including why it’s important for HR to be a part of big company decisions, why HR leaders should be big-picture thinkers and the necessity of being responsive.