HR is a universally misunderstood discipline whether you are a large or small business. Management guru Tom Peters once joked that if you want to insult a Human Resources director ask him if HR stands for ‘Human Remains.’  

But bringing in an HR presence into your growing business could be one of the most sensible decisions you ever make. Increasingly HR is more professional than ever before (its institute – the still rather antiquated sounding Institute of Personnel and Development – was recently given Chartered status). It doesn’t require a huge leap of imagination to see HR theory – recruitment, retention, training and culture development – is something you will want turned into practice.

So, what sort of person should you really be looking to hire, what do they do, and what, most importantly, will they cost? What does a HR manager do? 

The problem smaller growing businesses have is that they will usually need someone who can do all these things to one degree or another, and possibly have expertise specific to that firm’s area of growth, for example relocating or restructuring. Sue Shipley, principle consultant at HR recruitment consultancy, Odgers Ray & Berndston, says “What HR does is a factor of the maturity of the business and it’s requirements. Finding a simple pay and benefits administrator is a lot easier than an HR person who can formulate organisational development and that’s when the role starts to become more strategic.”

For most growing businesses, the HR role expands as the company grows. Nicola Alcorn, now HR manager for lastminute.com, remembers how she was poached and hired on a permanent basis after she had been brought in as a consultant from Resource Solutions to meet some critical hiring decisions when the firm was much smaller. Now she devolves recruitment responsibilities to business managers while she has the much larger task today of managing the entire payroll.

Vicky McFarlane is an associate director at Courtenay Search and Selection, a firm which specialises in finding HR specialists. She says: “It’s still the case that the dynamic that determines a HR person’s pay and responsibility is the number of people in the business. If you haven’t got many employees you can’t do things like succession planning, training, and strategic development, all the aspects that start adding value to a company beyond basic payroll and recruitment. If you’ve only got 50 people you shouldn’t be hiring anyone too qualified.”