Fast-growing start-ups and scaling businesses often have to build an internal HR function from a standing start. In their infancy many businesses handle the basics such as recruitment, leavers, payroll, holidays and disciplinary action themselves. However, devising a focused HR strategy driven by an experienced HR director can be the difference between a business that survives its growing pains and one that thrives.
Look beyond the certificates and sector
Look past the certificates and qualifications when hiring your HR director; they are a given. What is your potential HR director’s motivation? What do they want their legacy to be? Will they be able to build the culture of your business? A founder, CEO or MD that has steered a business to the point of large-scale growth will no doubt be an embodiment of the brand itself, and by playing an active role in the recruitment of their HR director they can evaluate the candidates and their wider ambitions against those of the business, and themselves, not just their credentials on paper.
Value can also be seen in looking further afield at candidates from different sectors. An effective HR director from an alternative field could bring a fresh perspective as well as knowledge gained through previous successes, challenges and experiences to the table, while also creating a more-rounded boardroom.
Report into you – not the FD
Don’t let the HR Director report into finance – it should always be the CEO. All too often business decisions are driven by numbers, even though there is ample proof that the best figures follow a business that has a strong internal culture. Reporting directly to the CEO will ensure that the role of HR is not seen as a cost, but as a valuable asset that drives the growth of the business through its staff. It will also ensure the message from HR is not diluted or misinterpreted.
Once the CEO is bought in, a talented HR director will be able to understand and navigate the complexities of their counterparts in finance, operations, marketing and others, before speaking their language and getting them on board.
Treat HR as an ethos, not a process
History is littered with firms that have sealed their fate as a result of having HR for the sake of HR, but did not allow it to have real influence at the top table. Sudden growth can lead to hasty adoption of a HR function without understanding its potential, purely because it seems like the next step in the business’ evolution.
It is vital to make the HR director a trusted adviser that puts staff at the forefront of decision making, as well as one that protects and supports the brand. This will encourage the implementation of a HR plan that focuses on the development, training and retention of staff at the same time as aligning with the business plan. In action, this will see the spirit of the business flow through every aspect of its operations, from nurturing staff to attracting top talent, creating strong client relationships to appealing to new business and internal communications to marketing, thereby creating a lasting legacy.
We are in the era of the small business, with SMEs accounting for 99 per cent of all private sector firms in 2016. More than ever business leaders are being faced with the opportunity to flourish and as we move towards a post-Brexit world, HR is the key to unlocking a successful business that is driven by its workforce, attracts the best talent and as a result will continue to generate success. CEOs and MDs must take responsibility for understanding its value and taking the next step in making their business one that is ready for the future.
Jane Firth is the HR lead for Berwick Partners in London and the South East.