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4 Steps to Success as an HR Department of One

hr best practices hr compliance hr for small business hr technology Nov 06, 2023

Once, you may have been a generalists in a small business, which still describes what many of us do today. But the role of HR in small organizations has gone beyond being a generalist. Today’s HR Department of One is expected to be a business leader driving results like all other members of the leadership team.

As an HR Department of One, you have to know the business and be sure that HR initiatives are aligned with business goals. At the same time, you have to add value to the bottom line and reduce risk to the overall operation.  Think about four steps that allow the HR Department of One to support everyone – from leadership to the entry-level team as summed up in this statement about your role:

I am a strategic executive creating actionable plans and embracing technology.

Let’s dive a little deeper into what each of these means:


Strategy doesn’t just come into play in your personal approach to HR initiatives. It needs to be the basis of all of your business-related decisions. Understand where you want to take HR, how your leadership sees HR fitting into the overall organization, and then align everything to move the team forward in the right direction.  Your initiatives must be strategic first if they are going to take time and resources away from the other work you have to get done every day.


If you want to be treated as a leader, you have to take the first step to lead. Realize that employees and other managers are watching your every move.  They may think of you as an admin function that gets things done, but subtle, non-verbal action can change that perception.  Show up at work dressed the part of leadership.  If everyone wears jeans great, but instead of gym shoes or a tee shirt, wear a nice shoe and throw on a cardigan. Keep your calendar full of appointments that allow you to interact with other leaders in your organization.  Don’t wait for them to ask, reach out and create relationships with the leadership team.


This is job#1 for the small human resources department. It is critical that the actions you take are aligned with your priorities and business goals.  You can’t base today’s activities on the latest  employee who is crying loudest.  Employee goals are not your goals, and while we want to serve our internal customers its fine to let people know you’ll consider that in the next few weeks.  Understand your priorities and limitations, and then pick initiatives that will drive value for the organization.


Technology in HR is here to stay.  Employees can do so many of the tasks in HR themselves.  But often, we are so quick to say that employees will never be able to figure out a system, so we end up doing the work for them. If that’s the case, then you need to get new employees! They are fine with using smartphones, social media platforms, and artificial intelligence to get answers to questions, send money and communicate with friends. They can enter data into your payroll self-service screen. HR is hired to drive initiatives forward, not hand-hold capable employees.

Finding success as an HR Department of One doesn’t have to be difficult. And – it can be amazingly rewarding to combine the business experiences you have as a leader in your organization with the love of people that got you into HR to being with. 

Thanks for reading!

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