Head Mentor Sinclair Dorman - Corporate Mentoring Initiatives
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HR for small business: why everyone needs a mentor

As a head of HR for a small business, you’re probably used to wearing many hats and dashing about at a frantic pace. Mentoring offers the space to reflect on your role and ensure you’re giving 100% to your people. 

9th Oct 2019
Head Mentor Sinclair Dorman - Corporate Mentoring Initiatives
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In my line of work, I support heads of HR, HR directors, and L&D managers in both large corporations and SMEs, and I’ve noticed a remarkable difference between them. The HR job description can cover an incredibly diverse spectrum.

Is this down to the role or the type of person in it? Are they naturally the type of people to run at 100 miles an hour?

Are they the ‘do-ers’ by nature, or is it that for SMEs it’s simply a case of ‘all hands on deck’?

While HR people are usually adept at juggling many different responsibilities at once, there is a danger that the focus of their main job becomes diluted.

Despite the wide remit of their role, very few of these HR professionals receive professional support – only one in eight (13%) employees have a mentor, according to a recent study by AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians).

Imagine the increased levels of productivity and happiness we might see if that only doubled.

If you’re doing HR for a small business – or any business, in fact, but especially for an SME – you need time to reflect and be objective. You need a mentor. Here are just a few reasons why.

1. To regain focus

An HR professional’s job description can cover all manner of responsibilities.

For example, at one SME I know, the team had tripled in a very short space of time and their HR person had been promoted into his position from being head of reception.

He showed such great aptitude and enthusiasm that he ended up creating a small HR department that also continued to run reception.

He’s not the only HR person having to wear many hats. I’ve come across a wide selection of duties that those in HR roles have had to carry out in addition to their core job, including restructuring the loo area, labeling storage facilities, and organising further parking slots.

Mentoring creates space by helping you stop, breathe and reflect on what you’re doing and how that impacts on the culture around you.

While HR people are usually adept at juggling many different responsibilities at once, there is a danger that the focus of their main job becomes diluted.

This is a particular risk in the current climate. The modern HR role has a strong strategic slant, acting in line with the organisation’s vision – which is right, in my opinion.

After all, what’s the point in having vision without the right people, appropriate skills and attitude to see it through?

That said, shouldering all of this responsibility can be a strain and even the most adept HR person needs thinking time.

Mentoring allows HR teams to keep things in perspective and remain objective at all times, no matter how busy or challenging the work environment is.

2. To manage company culture better

I have received emails from heads of HR in small business sent at midnight. Culturally this is not ok.

If I am receiving an email at this hour then I have no doubt employees are too, thereby creating a never-ending cycle of unhealthy working hours, which eventually creates resentment.

This in turn results in a toxic environment or a higher level of staff turnover.

I have also come across those who feel threatened and want to ‘do’ everything to avoid a perceived loss of control, when in fact they should be confident in doing what they do best and delegating the rest.

Your actions as an HR leader have repercussions across the business – in many ways you set the cultural tone for the rest of the organisation. You should be doing this consciously and thoughtfully.

This is where mentoring comes in – it creates space by helping you stop, breathe and reflect on what you’re doing and how that impacts on the culture around you.

3. To offer support in times of transition

A few years ago, I was approached by an L&D manager to provide executive mentors for a senior management team during a time of transition.

Unfortunately, the transition was completed with a new leader who had unacceptable social skills, and morale plummeted.

A mentor gives you someone in your corner who is there to support you and help you grow.

This left the HR director in a tricky situation, having to test abilities and manage upward.

Mentoring is useful in situations such as these because you need time for reflection when things are changing around you.

A mentor can also help you to take a more objective view of the new structure/situation and find a way to move forward.

4. To help you prioritise better

I worked with one HR manager who was exceedingly ‘busier’ than his predecessor, who was administrative by title.

How was this possible? It was down to a dash of ‘entrepreneur syndrome’, perhaps – i.e. too many ideas and schemes without the resource to see them through.

As part of his mentoring, we worked through some quick and easy ways to help him ease the strain. My advice was as follows:

  • List activities and prioritise them in order to equip the team to be happy and productive.
  • Attach some deadlines and be firm with what can be delegated or recruit help.
  • Segregate the week into ‘business as usual’ and ‘strategic work’, starting with a compulsory 30-minute whiteboard session with yourself.
  • Reflect on what is working, and what needs to be done differently.
  • Collaborate and make friends with other HR directors.

As a result, his pace of work is much less frenetic and he has freed up the time he was spending on admin to be more strategic and think longer-term.

Finally…

As an HR professional in a small business, you’re probably wearing many different hats right now – and that might be exactly how you like it – but no one can do everything all by themselves.

A mentor gives you someone in your corner who is there to support you and help you grow.

After all, if you’re running on empty, you won’t be able to fuel the passion you have for your people.    

Interested in this topic? Read How mentoring can benefit your business.

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