The Evolving Role of Small Business HR Professionals

SMB HR professionals handle a multitude of responsibilities — from data analysis and crisis management, to diversity specialization and mentoring.


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HR teams wear many hats. Here are some of their current focuses

Small business HR professionals have a dynamic role. Formerly known as “personnel,” small business HR has come a long way from a department primarily focused on tactical execution of tasks like payroll and benefits administration. Technology tools like Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS), Applicant Tracking System (ATS), and employee engagement software have allowed HR professionals to automate many of their previous responsibilities. These tools have led HR staff to free up time and energy to focus on initiatives with bigger impact.

In 2020 and beyond, small and medium-sized business (SMBs) HR professionals are planning, building, and scaling programming that nurtures employee career growth, ensures safe working spaces, and directly impacts the company bottom line. Here’s how the role has evolved and what SMB HR teams are focusing on today.

The role of SMB HR professionals today

Data analyst

SMB HR professionals needn’t be data scientists. However, they have to be able to analyze and interpret data, spot trends, and use insights to inform strategy. Handling data was more cumbersome when the people function still heavily relied on spreadsheets or early iterations of HR software. But today’s HRIS systems make it easy to understand data, offer a seamless user experience, and give professionals easy access to the information they’re after through the user dashboard.

DEI specialist

In small businesses which lack the resources for a full-time, on-staff diversity, equity, and inclusion specialist, HR managers and team members are stepping up to own the company’s DEI programming. This looks different from organization to organization, however programming can include:

  • Working to minimize bias in the application process
  • Creating recruiting partnerships with historically Black colleges
  • Analyzing talent gaps to develop relevant opportunities for racial equity in the organization

Crisis manager

COVID-19 propelled us into a global work-from-home experiment and put massive pressure on employers everywhere. HR took the helm to field and answer questions like:

  • How do we work remotely?
  • When are we returning to work?
  • What do we do if one of our team members gets sick?
  • How are we modifying our sick leave and paid leave policies to support employees during this time?

In these strange and challenging times, SMB HR professionals have taken on crisis management roles to support what makes a company truly great — the people.

Brand specialist

The best SMB HR members are adept at channeling what makes the company a great place to work in their everyday interactions and messaging to current and prospective employees.

Small business HR departments may lack the deep pockets of big organizations. However, they’re still responsible for nurturing an employer brand to attract the best talent available. This means HR teams at SMBs have to be employer brand specialists and pros at conveying company culture, values, and vibe in job descriptions, employee handbooks, and PTO policies. The best SMB HR members are adept at channeling what makes the company a great place to work in their everyday interactions and messaging to current and prospective employees.

Mentor, coach, and advocate

The strong interpersonal abilities of HR professionals coupled with their data analytics skills make them premier mentors, coaches, and advocates. HR team members can often see strengths or abilities in others that these individuals don’t see themselves. But more importantly, HR has access to a wealth of information which allows them to support their claims and recommendations. For example — an HR staff member could inform a manager that they should consider a high-potential employee for a promotion. It’s the intersection of human ability and data that makes HR uniquely positioned to nurture talent and organize succession planning.

Compliance officer

HR professionals are accustomed to wearing many hats, and nowhere is this more true than at SMBs where HR managers commonly run the department solo and act as ad-hoc compliance managers, too. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for HR managers is set to grow and in addition to the traditional responsibilities of the role, “’Human resources managers also will be needed to ensure that firms adhere to changing and complex employment laws regarding topics such as equal employment opportunity, healthcare, and retirement plans.” If you’re a small business HR professional, be ready to ensure compliance across HR-specific labor and employment laws and beyond.

HR is an exciting place to be. HR professionals help employees bring their best, most authentic selves to work while solving complex problems across the business. But the spectrum of responsibilities means HR could use some support. Get helpful, accurate answers from a trusted community online, and join the 40,000 other small business owners and HR professionals subscribed to Workest’s newsletter today.


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