Executive HR 101

By Shannon Swift | Human Resources | No Comments

Recently, Shannon Swift, Founder and CEO of Swift HR Solutions, launched the Washington Technology Industry Association HR for Executives Forum.  Her first article was called "Executive HR 101" and we thought it might be interesting to our clients and other executives looking for a checklist of things you need to know to get HR right regardless of your company's size.  The article is pasted below. Enjoy!

Executive HR 101

You are the CEO, COO,CFO  or VP of Finance, or VP of Operations. You have a full plate, but you are also responsible for Human Resources.  Am I right? 

As a VP of Operations you have projects to implement and an office to run.  As the CFO or VP of Finance you have a top line to watch and a bottom line to manage.  As the COO you have everything already mentioned and more than likely a sales organization to oversee.  And as the CEO you have it all and much, much more, as the buck stops with you.  So who has time for Human Resources?  Who has time for all that touchy, feely stuff?  Heck, who even has time to think about any of it today as we are all trying to do more with less?

You do, and you have to.  Why? Because, as the VP of Operations, you need strong, competent people to implement and manage those projects.  As the CFO or VP of Finance, you need a critical eye to examine ways to cut costs related to things like benefits and insurance without damaging morale, and someone to keep you compliant to avoid costly litigation and fines.  If you are the COO, you need everything already mentioned along with a solid strategic partner to help you with organizational design to put  the right people in the right places to ensure all are successful and, in turn, the Company.   And if you are the CEO, you need an experienced confidant and candid partner to help you through everything from layoffs to acquisitions and board meetings to executive coaching.  You need to know that every issue related to the success of your company that involves your people (which is nearly every one) is covered. 

So, has your view of the value and need for Human Resources changed?  Been updated?  Been confirmed?  What do you need to know to put the right Human Resource program in place for your company?  Well, let's start with the stage of your company and go from there.


Top 5 things you need to know about Human Resources if your company is between 2 and 20 employees:

  1. Implementing best practices and philosophies early is the key to growing your company the right way.  What we mean here are things like foundational areas such as hiring practices, compensation and benefits philosophies, culture and values, etc.
  2. Ensure your benefits are in place and fit your company culture and budget.  A good Human Resource professional can help you do everything from implementing your first benefit package to evaluating an existing one to ensure you are getting the best value for the benefits you are providing and offering. 
  3. Compensation is key to attracting and retaining the right people. Having a strategically thought out plan that fits your company's stage of growth, funding, and product stage, and is also competitive with the market, is key to keeping the team happy, as well as your investors. 
  4. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Be sure that you have an orientation program that helps people quickly come up to speed on all the things they need to know to get started successfully.
  5. Have solid tools in place and an experienced resource to reach out to when you are in need of Human Resource support. Attorneys are expensive, and don't necessarily fit your culture. Accountants are not normally well versed in Human Resource requirements, so you need someone on your team who is focused on Human Resources and has the best tools to support you. Utilizing a product like SwiftHR®-in-a-box affords the appropriate level of HR tools and resources needed in a cost-effective way for even the earliest stage employer


Top 5 things you will want to consider if your company has more than 20 employees:

  1. If you currently have someone internally managing Human Resource ask yourself if they are tactical, strategic, or both.  If you have an Office Manager, for example, focused simply on tactical execution of the HR function, you likely are missing out on a number of important issues around such areas as compensation (including equity), benefits design, organizational design, leadership and executive coaching.  You may find that adding senior level Human Resource expertise leads to HR practices that more fully support business objectives and facilitate effective organizational growth.  This is a position ripe for outsourcing if you're not ready to absorb the cost of a full time professional.

  2. Make sure all of your executives and management are on the same page.  A good way to test this is to ask each what the mission of the Company is, along with the foundational values that drive the Company's behavior.  Will the answers be the same?  Ask them what the key business initiatives today are and what their role is in ensuring they are met.  Will they know?  Strategic Human Resources can help to ensure that these are clearly articulated and that all parts of the organization are aligning in the same direction.  Having everyone on the same page will allow the company to move toward success much faster and easier, and with fewer hiccups.

  3. Evaluate your compensation and benefits practices to make sure you have a defensible structure with strong evidence of internal equity.  Ensure that your capitalization table is up-to-date and that your underlying compensation philosophies are resulting in consistent hiring and merit procedures and outcomes.  Compensation is an emotionally charged area and one ripe for compliance and litigation problems. Speaking of which, are you ready for the COBRA changes that need to be in place by 4/17/09?

  4. Review your Organizational Chart. Look for areas that no longer make sense, or may indicate potential problems are looming.  Common problems include too many direct reports (i.e. > 5-7), a strong individual contributor who has somehow managed to build a large base of direct reports but has no leadership or management skills, functional sub-groups under the wrong group, "holes" in a department, or "equal partners" with no clearly defined authority points.  Keeping an eye on the organizational chart of a rapidly growing business and making corrections before they're needed is essential to effective execution.

  5. Know what your people care about. When you started out, the team was all young, single, and didn't care about things like health benefits or EAPs or even having a 401(k) plan.  Does the group still look the same now, 2 or 3 or 4 years down the road?  As demographics of the team change, the package offered should reflect the members you're trying to keep on board, and also those you're trying to recruit.

So where do you start in regards to getting your Human Resource initiatives on track or in place?  The best place to start, if you are an established company, is with a complete Human Resource Assessment.  This process and resulting document will help you determine and address areas of non-compliance, both state and federal, and will also identify areas of deficiency in best practices and gaps in your HR program.  Another consideration in your evaluation of how you're doing as an employer is to invest in a culture assessment.  What aspects of the Company and their job are important to your employees?  What do they say outside the company walls about the company? What would they do differently if they were in charge?  The answers to these questions are all things that help you as an executive anticipate and proactively avoid issues that could slow your company's progress down, or in the worst case scenario, bring it to a halt.

Tell us what you are doing to ensure Human Resources is a priority in your company.  What are you doing creatively that you can share with other executives?  What questions do you have that we might be able to answer? 

Shannon Swift is the Founder and CEO of Swift HR Solutions, an HR Consulting firm that supports early and mid-stage companies through its talented Human Resource consultants and its SwiftHR® in-a-box product and surrounding services.  For more information contact Swift HR Solutions at info@swifthrsolutions.com or via phone at 888-768-5920  X702

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