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HR has a branding problem, wouldn’t you agree?



Alex Hatting, Chief People Officer at Employment Hero and Ben Thompson, founder and CEO at Employment Hero

Featured | Workplace

By Loren Webb

HR is often seen as a negative thing in the workplace, and in small businesses and startups it can be hard to know what the best steps are to implement a successful HR manager or team to lead your teams to greatness. How can we overcome the negative connotations of HR at work, in order to really excel? 

In this week’s Let Talk feature, we discussed culture and how you can maintain a positive working culture when you are a startup experience rapid growth. A big part of that is having the right people at the right time, with a HR manager leading the way in coaching managers and employees to be at the top of their game and ensuring the team are aligned with company values.

To extend on this topic further, we wanted to ask the experts – Alex Hattingh (Chief People Officer) and Ben Thompson (founder/CEO) at Employment Hero – their opinion and advice on how to make HR as effective as possible in business.

Employment Hero is a platform that aims to take away the guess work on admin, compliance and legalities associated with HR, so these guys are well-placed to give insight on what small businesses struggle with culture-wise and how they can thrive as they grow!

Discover all of their tips in our interview below.


What important advice would you give to the HR manager within a small business/startup?

Alex: “I think it’s really important that small businesses understand that culture is actually owned by everyone. And so you’ve got your custodian, which is your Head of HR, and they’re there to guide and coach managers on how to be the best managers they can be.

“I think in a lot of organisations HR managers become the police because managers are not capable or they’re not bold enough to own what they should be doing. And that might be where you do have to come down after a recent party and discipline someone – when really a manager should take on that role. It’s about that HR person standing back and enabling that manager to do their job.”

HR can have a bad reputation or a boring reputation – how do you change that within small business culture?

Ben: “The perception of HR has a bad reputation because traditionally it’s been something that only really large organisations can afford to do – so it’s associated with being bureaucratic. Also many of the tasks that HR deliver are seen as being ‘the fun police’, you know, they are the people that can terminate you… there’s a lot of negative connotations around it.”

Why do you think there’s a reluctance to invest in HR?

Ben: “It’s expensive when you have a limited cashflow and limited budget. It’s inconsistent. There’s no guaranteed outcomes like there are with finances. HR has uncertain outcomes, you can’t guarantee ROI necessarily, and it can be inaccessible to small businesses. You need to turn that around by literally reversing that equation. Making it inexpensive, making it consistent, having high value outcomes and making it accessible.

“The way to do that is to not try and reinvent the wheel. Recognise that about 95% of what every business requires to be a good employer is actually recyclable, something that you can share across businesses. Leverage tech that can give you access to all of the things that you need affordably. That’s what we’ve built. We’ve designed EmploymentHero specifically for companies to be a great employer.”

How do you make a great first HR hire as your startup grows?

Alex: “I think you have to be really, really aligned with the purpose, and the person that you hire has to find absolute meaning in what you are doing as an organisation. So whether that’s making widgets, or making employment easier… you have to be diving out of bed every morning to be able to do that. You also can’t be precious about what you’re doing with your time… there are some days where I do things that I was doing in my career 20 years, and that’s fine by me, but some people will not be ok with that.”

What are your tips to becoming an amazing HR manager in small business?

Ben: “So recognise that the objective is to get employees to be capable of working autonomously, on the right things all of the time. That’s what HR needs to deliver – the infrastructure and the culture that gets people to that point of being as good as they can be.

“To do that you need to firstly establish trust. Trust actually comes from compliance. If you’re not certain that you’re doing things right, and your employees aren’t certain that you’re doing things right, then you’re trying to build on top of mud.

“So getting compliance right, as basic as that may sound, is actually the foundation stone to build on. It’s aligning people, engaging people, it’s giving people meaning and purpose in their role. It’s then educating people, developing people and then they’re in a state where they can do their best work.

“Now many of those things can be delivered or facilitated through technology, but a good HR professional can basically coach every individual through that process to get them to the top of their game.”

What should employers look for when bringing in a new HR manager?

Ben: “That they’re not coming in to do administration. You’re employing someone to come in and effectively be a coach. They should be coaching managers to get everybody performing to the best of their ability. It’s a game of numbers that you’ve got to get everybody as close to 100% of their capability as you possibly can, so they have to be capable and then they have to be working on the right things. So being a great coach to the business to get them to the right things most of the time.”

Fundamentally, can you highlight the top 3 ways HR should be assisting your business that goes beyond payroll?

Ben: “The first one is to find a coach. The second one is finding someone who is deeply passionate about engaging with the purpose of the businesses. What’s the third one Alex?”

Alex: “I think the third one is being the advocate of both the employee and employer. So I’ve had my career for 15 years overseas and ten of that was in America, working for Yahoo and Google, and I was floored when I came back to Australian corporate – because HR were the police. You were tasked with meeting quotas for putting women in leadership roles, you were tasked with putting the policies in, you were tasked with keeping them out of court.  You weren’t working on those high level things where you have people working at the top of the game and everyone is aligned to the to objectives of the company and winning. HR managers can get a bad name as they can make decisions that are better for the boss, rather than the employee. And so it’s having the accountability in the leadership to both sides.”

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