Managing HR for a Small Business: 5-Point Survival Guide

Posted by Herzing Blog on Nov 8, 2019 9:23:20 AM

Updated June, 2021.

HR managers face challenges on so many fronts. On one side, there are legal issues and ever-evolving compliance requirements.

On the other, you’ve got employee engagement, talent retention, and dealing with performance problems. Not to mention, nailing down workplace policies and answering to higher-ups. 

It’s a lot to take on, particularly if you’ve never handled HR responsibilities before. But the truth is, this is a very common scenario in smaller businesses that are growing, and suddenly have need for an HR manager. 

Someone has to step into that role and create a framework that will help the company thrive. No small feat! 

Not sure where to begin, or how to focus your efforts?

Follow our 5-point survival guide for new HR managers—with special guest, Treena Chabot (Chartered Professional in Human Resources and the Principal Consultant at TREE for Supervisors).

Treena provided the 5 points in this survival guide, based on her training program and decades of experience working with HR professionals.

This is how to survive – and thrive!  as a new HR manager. 


1. Get a Handle on Workplace Legislation 

The last thing any new HR manager needs is a lawsuit. To avoid potential legal problems, you need to understand legislation that governs employment standards, workplace safety, employment equity, and human rights obligations. 

Each province in Canada has its own legal requirements employers must follow for many areas, including: 

- minimum wage 

- statutory holidays 

- vacation and leaves 

- notice of termination 

- severance pay 


Know your local employment standards. Keep an eye on changes at both the provincial and federal levels.

Human resources managers must also be prepared to educate their team on key issues, like workplace health and safety, discrimination and harassment, hours of work and overtime. 

Employees will be looking to you for guidance—and company stakeholders will count on you to keep the company compliant with HR laws. 

Don’t know where to begin? 

Take a look at this resource from the Government of Canada, outlining your legal obligations: Human Resources Regulations 


2. Map Out Clear HR Policies That Make Sense For Your Team 

Once you know the rules of HR, you can begin articulating policies that will keep your team compliant and foster a positive working environment. 

In many companies, this means creating an employee handbook. People need a guide they can refer to, to understand what the company owes them, their obligations as workers, and standards for professionalism in the workplace. 

Your top goal? To personalize the handbook to your company’s mission and culture. This is not a one-size-fits-all situation.

If you want to get team members and management on board, your handbook must feel authentic to them. 

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when designing your guide: 


☑️ Include a statement of mission and values. What sets your company apart and what do you stand for as an organization? 


☑️ Don’t just copy and paste generic HR policies. Explain how they reflect your company’s culture and why they’re important.


☑️ Highlight employee benefits. Put the perks front and center, so employees know their well being is at the heart of the document 


☑️ Present it: Don’t just pass out copies or email a PDF. Formally present the handbook, address questions, and get feedback from your team for future improvement.


Worried about getting managers on board with your new policies?  

Treena says this is normal, especially in companies that previously had no HR department. Formalizing and explaining your HR policies in a handbook is an excellent way to promote the value you bring. 


“The challenge for new HR managers in a small business environment is that the culture in the company could be one where HR wasn’t important in the past.

They now have HR, because they know it's necessary, but they may have old habits they are defaulting to, which may not be in line with best practices.

Having the patience to explain processes and gain support from more influential people will help a lot.”


3. Nail Down a Smart Recruitment & Hiring Strategy 

Companies who don’t hire strategically inevitably suffer big losses in several ways. They lose money having to train replacements for bad hires. They suffer downslides in workplace morale due to high turnover.  

And they take a hit in productivity, as constant onboarding of new people creates confusion and delays. 

Ultimately, it’s up to HR to prevent all of this, by implementing smart recruitment and hiring policies. Many companies, big and small, are lacking in this area. 

Far too many hiring managers rely on gut instinct when selecting new hires. Others waste a lot of time interviewing inappropriate candidates, because they don’t have a good pre-screening tool. 

How can you avoid these hiring traps, right from day one? Make sure your recruitment and hiring process includes the following: 


☑️ Create a detailed job description, with input from the manager who will be overseeing the new hire. 


☑️ Develop a pre-screening tool to weed out unqualified candidates (a small technical test, quiz, or questionnaire).  


☑️ Create a standardized list of interview questions. This is a good way to ensure objectivity and consistency across all interviews. Just make sure you’re not asking anything deemed "off limits" by workplace legislation. 


☑️ Think through ideal responses for each question. What do you consider a promising or adequate response? What are you hoping to learn about the candidate by asking this question? 


☑️ Don’t forget to highlight benefits and incentives. Don’t assume the candidate is just grateful to get an interview. Really good prospects probably have a few competing offers. Let them know why your company should be their top choice.


4. Make a Plan for Handling Performance/Behavior Issues 

What if things don’t go according to plan with a new hire? Or an existing employee or manager isn’t following the HR policies you outlined in your handbook? 

You need a plan for handling behavior or performance issues at your company.

HR managers are often asked to intervene when these kinds of challenges arise. There are some concrete steps you can take to handle them gracefully. For starters, we suggest: 


☑️ Work on your basic conflict resolution skills. When dealing with two parties in dispute, never ignore the problem, hoping it will go away. Instead, take a neutral stance, and facilitate an open discussion.

Focus on mutually beneficial goals, and when necessary, remind parties of their legal obligations and relevant HR policies. 


☑️ Hold regular performance reviews. Ensure team members know what’s expected of them, and give them a chance to voice their concerns, needs, and goals.

Set clear performance benchmarks, and offer opportunities for learning and advancement. Ditch the once-a-year review. Meet more regularly, both informally and formally, to keep your finger on the pulse of how things are going. 


☑️ Have progressive discipline measures at the ready. Know your legal obligations for providing official warnings and the process of termination. Act early, and see if the performance or behavior issue can be resolved through discussion or additional training. Be sure to keep written records of all meetings, performance reviews, warnings, and training sessions. 


☑️ Check out this guide from the Government of Canada, including various scenarios and response strategies: Progressive Discipline 


5. Build your confidence 

Treena says lack of self-confidence is often a major obstacle for new HR managers. In order to get buy-in from the team, you must believe in your policies—and be ready to stand up for them. 

You must face higher-ups who may challenge your recommendations. You must be ready to take a leadership role during moments of conflict, and step in with guidance and corrective measures. 

If you truly want to affect positive change as a human resources professional, building self-confidence must be a top priority. 

“The number one mistake new HR managers make is not having enough confidence. This will erode your performance in several ways. You may be unable to voice your advice to managers. You may feel intimidated or ignored by employees with strong personalities.   

You need to understand the dynamics at play in your workplace, and how to handle different types of people. Worried about a particularly sensitive conversation? Try practicing what you want to say on someone outside the company, who can give you feedback. Reach out to other HR managers for advice and encouragement. Do research and invest in training. Surround yourself with a community of support.” 


Meet Treena, and learn more about the HR principles she teaches: HR Training for New Managers: Instructor, Treena Chabot Explains What to Expect in Class 


Looking for more HR guidance? 

Have a question or concern we didn’t cover here?  

Explore the HR training course Treena offers through Kompass Professional Development. She tackles issues that are particularly relevant to people who are transitioning into HR. 

Click below to see a detailed course list and see if this online certificate meets your needs. You can chat live to ask questions, or request information via email. We’re here to help! 

Explore the Human Resources Management Certificate


Topics: human resources training, human resources courses, Kompass Professional Development

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