Why Small HR Should Think Big

I’ve long been intrigued with the tension that arises between “Big HR” and “Small HR.” That is to say the how and what HR professionals spend their time on at large organizations versus what they’re doing at SMBs.

In the US, small businesses (less than 500 employees) account for close to 48% of private sector employment. And most of those small businesses, particularly once they hit the 25-40 employee count, have an in-house HR function; usually hovering somewhere around 1.4 full time HR staff per 100 employees (per research via Bloomberg BNA’s HR Department Benchmarks and Analysis report). Or, absent an in-house HR team, they utilize some combination of consultants, brokers and attorneys to successfully manage their people ops and HR strategies.

And there is, let’s face it, a world of difference between working as an HR leader or independent contributor in an HR Department of 200 as opposed to operating as an SMB HR Department of One (or Department of a Few). Big HR shops usually have sizable budgets, extensive resources, and deep-diving specialists. Small HR shops are often at the mercy of the Owner/CEO when they wish to spend much beyond $100, have to tap into external resources (friends and family!) for assistance, and rely on Google, Facebook groups or SHRM for access to resources and answers to unusual questions.

Big HR often appears, to those on the outside looking in, to be sexy and exciting. “They have a People Analytics Department!” “They’re doing Programmatic Advertising!” “Their Recruiters actually have LinkedIn seats!” Then, when we read articles in HR publications or attend HR conferences, we hear even more about the enticing and compelling initiatives that our HR compatriots in Big HR are implementing.

Of course it’s inspirational. We get excited. We take notes and bookmark articles and avidly devour whitepapers. We find ways to scale ideas from those ginormous organizations and collectively promote movement towards the future of work. HR professionals in SMBs push internal initiatives to implement effective workplace technology or incorporate more human-centric policies and processes.

At the same time though I find that for some HR leaders at SMBs there’s the opposite effect with some merely throwing up their hands and saying “I’ll never have the resources, time or support to do these things.”

To which I say “stop it.” Small HR can both THINK big and ACCOMPLISH big things and there are easy ways to reinvigorate that passion for influential HR:

  • Tap into networks that focus on the future of HR. Move beyond HR 101/compliance and discuss “ideas.” Join communities or find a partner/HR coach that can work with you to broaden your thinking and approach.
  • Pay attention to trends (year over year) – One great resource for this (which I talk up all the time) is Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends Report. Read it, digest it, and use it take a deeper dive into those areas you may be adding to your company’s HR Roadmap.
  • Explore areas outside of HR. Everything that’s happening in the world impacts our workplaces so be cognizant of things that are happening in politics, the economy, technology and general pop culture. Read Fast CompanyTechCrunch, the Wall Street Journal and People. (really on the People thing).  
  • Advance your professional boundaries. If you’re a Benefits Specialist spend some time on webinars (or in conference sessions) designed for Recruiters. If you’re a Recruiter (in the US), brush up on the FMLA or ACA parameters. 
  • Up-Skill … YOURSELF. Don’t wait for a new corporate initiative to be the impetus for learning. Demo new HR tech products just for the fun of it. Take an online class in coding. Volunteer to work with the Marketing Team on a branding initiative. 

“It takes the same energy to think small as it does to think big. So dream big and think bigger.” – Daymond John


Robin Schooling, Principal HR + People Strategy Consultant with Peridus Group, has worked the HR and Recruiting beat in various leadership roles since the days of the fax machine and rolodex. She’s a global speaker, has been blogging for a decade, and is co-host of Drive Thru HR. Find her on Twitter and you might get to see pictures of her three (yes, 3) dogs. 

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