Author, speaker, agent provocateur for senior leaders and their teams That People Thing
Columnist
Share this content
Brought to you by HRZone.com

Ten reasons to love doing HR for a small business

HR professionals in small businesses have a very different experience to their corporate counterparts. Here’s why you might want to consider taking the SME route. 

25th Sep 2019
Author, speaker, agent provocateur for senior leaders and their teams That People Thing
Columnist
Share this content
staff at a small business having a meeting
iStock/DGLimages

Alright, alright. You don’t have access to a ‘Leadership University’ or state of the art breakout rooms. You don’t have an army of HRBPs, and if you want a promotion you’ll have to give it to yourself.

That said, doing HR in a small or medium sized enterprise has its perks. Let’s examine them.

1. Very little red tape

If you’re bogged down in process and paperwork then the only person you have to blame is yourself.

Smaller businesses don't typically require the same level of complexity because you can get your arms around the company and literally see what people are up to. Messages don’t get lost as they pass through layers of bureaucracy.

When you talk about ‘our people’ you aren’t thinking about a mass of nameless, faceless numbers, but about individuals you know.

Rather than spending your time creating and then supervising a tome of regulations, you can sit with actual human beings and have conversations.

2. Access to the top (and the bottom)

Smaller organisations tend to be less hierarchical. You probably know your CEO or the company founder as a peer, maybe even a friend - something that is rare in big corporates. Equally, you know the names of people at entry level, you know their story, you recruited them.

When you talk about ‘our people’ you aren’t thinking about a mass of nameless, faceless numbers, but about individuals you know.

This allows you to make well-informed judgment calls and adapt initiatives to the needs of real people rather than ‘populations’ in your business.

3. Agility

Big companies are generally slower to make decisions or take bold action.

In fact, in big corporate HR your whole job might be ‘selling’ initiatives to higher-ups, rolling out information to the rank and file, dealing with resistance and feeding those resistances back up. Meanwhile, nothing has actually changed.

In a small company you can have an idea, run with it and bug-fix it as you go. Yes, it’s a wild ride but the alternative – being bogged down in meetings about meetings – might not be as much fun.

4. Clear return on investment…or not

SMEs are much closer to the bottom line than bigger businesses. I often remind executives in large corporates that smaller businesses would go under if they were as unaccountable for results as the big guys.

SMEs tend to attract people who want to make a difference, and see the difference they’re making, even if it means they are less secure.

In a big business a whole generation of leaders may go through a leadership programme, the results of which are never calculated, and no one really cares as long as shareholder value is rising.

In an SME, however, you’d never spend the money without being able to see the return - and you get to see the return fast. Are things changing? Are results improving? You get immediate feedback and can tweak and adapt straight away.

5. Closer to a sense of purpose and direction

One of the big challenges in a big business is engagement. The business may have a mission statement but often it’s just empty words in a document.

You could have a job with no connection to the purpose of the business, never meet an external customer and never really understand what the company does and STILL be successful in your role.

SMEs, on the other hand, tend to attract people who want to make a difference, and see the difference they’re making, even if it means they are less secure.

Understanding why people work for you, what turns them on and off and measuring levels of engagement, passion and commitment is much easier in a smaller company.

6. Variety

Without a big team of HR minions, you get involved in everything. You oversee payroll, you head up recruitment, you coach the CEO, you design training and development programmes.

Your voice is louder in a smaller company. You aren’t set aside from the day-to-day operation of the business. 

You're exposed to all aspect of HR and can either decide to specialise in one area later on or keep your broad perspective, helping ensure each part of the HR remit is joined up.

No two days are the same and if this is how you like things you’d probably find a narrower remit in big business too predictable.

7. Work and live locally

The chances are there that are more small businesses near where you live than big ones.

The advantages are multiple: less time getting to and from work, being close to the school if your kids need you, working in the community where you live and have a vested interest, working alongside people who live near you and can become genuine friends with outside of work, less environmental impact, more work/life balance. These benefits are not to be taken lightly.

8. Greater influence

Your voice is louder in a smaller company. You aren’t set aside from the day-to-day operation of the business. You understand the business end to end. You can wade in on issues outside of the ‘people’ remit. You’re one of 50 or 150 people, not one of 5,000.

As such, you influence direction and strategy rather than just having to respond to a direction and strategy developed without your input.

9. People understand what you do

In larger businesses HR is a ‘service provider’, a ‘cost-centre’. There’s ‘the business’ and then there’s HR.

In a smaller company people know you. They hear your contribution to meetings. They see you trying to balance up commercial realities with a longer-term perspective about investing in people.

Not only this, but they trust that you have their interests at heart because they sit with you at lunch or at the pub after work. You’re right at the heart of the business.

10. You get to be you

Big business is highly political. Everyone has an agenda or is trying to work out what someone else’s agenda is. Individuality is hard to sustain.

To win at that game you may need to moderate your behaviour, leave some of your rougher edges at the door when you arrive each day or even sell a little of your soul.

The reward is the large corner office, a handsome pay rise and an invitation to the annual Top 100 Fast Track conference in Las Vegas.

All that means, however, is three days pretending to laugh at the group CEOs slightly off-colour presentation and draining the free bar to make it all tolerable.

Ok, maybe this is rather extreme and, as a coach for many leaders and HRDs in big corporate I know that it is possible to hold on to your humanity, fight the good fight, remain authentic and still get to the top.

It’s important to appreciate the freedom, influence, variety and lifestyle that HR in a smaller company gives you.

It’s just that you’re fighting the prevailing culture the whole time. You may feel that the sacrifice isn’t worth the reward.

I admit, I’ve been intentionally provocative in this top ten. There are massive benefits to having the resources, facilities, strength that comes from a sizeable team of specialists working together and the chance to operate on a world stage.

Working for a big corporate provides a career ladder, plenty of development opportunities and global projects to get your teeth in to.

Maybe that’s where you want to be - there’s really nothing stopping you.

At the same time, it’s important to appreciate the freedom, influence, variety and lifestyle that HR in a smaller company gives you.

On those tough days when you’re staring down the barrel of a cashflow problem or the WiFi has gone down and you are, for some reason, the person everyone is complaining to, it might just help.

Interested in this topic? Read How best to support small businesses with their HR challenges.

Replies (0)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

There are currently no replies, be the first to post a reply.