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How to Design a Structured HR Strategy

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Design your HR strategy to hire a great team.

As organizations struggle to succeed in a competitive talent landscape driven by resignations, hiring slumps, and mass turnover, many small and medium-sized enterprises find themselves lagging behind in the fast-moving hiring landscape and aren’t able to attract the talent they need.

“We’re too small to do formal interviews.”

“We don’t do written employment contracts, they take too long.”

“Job descriptions are just for big companies.”

You’ve probably heard other business owners and managers say something like this. In fact, you’ve probably said it yourself. But rather than making your life easier, this lack of structure could be holding you back. Reports from Canadian SMEs point to a number of hiring challenges created by this lack of process. Not having the specialized HR staff and resources, retention challenges, as well as baked-in biases in informal processes reduce diversity and result in a smaller talent pool.

It’s an Opportunity, Not a Challenge

Addressing these challenges shouldn’t feel daunting. Even micro-businesses can improve their talent attraction and hiring practices by implementing a structured and strategic human resources plan. And it doesn’t have to take months to put in place.

If your company is small, new, or finding its feet again amidst a brand new employment environment, you’re in the perfect position to design a responsive HR process that will not just stabilize your recruitment performance but help you improve your hit rate and reduce churn.

A game strategy drawn on a blackboard with white chalk.

Is a Structured HR Process Even Possible for SMEs?

The days of ad hoc HR interviews and haphazardly posted job opportunities are gone. Candidates are increasingly savvy when investigating job opportunities, using digital networks to make decisions in ways many SMEs are often ill-equipped to cope with.

Emily Mei Carter, an Employer Branding and Future of Work Consultant who works with SMEs to define their human resources identity, has strategic advice for SMEs looking to improve their hiring practices.

“A structured process is not only possible but critical for SMEs,” she says. This process should ideally take root at the beginning of operations, but creating a structured process for your human resources and hiring needs can happen at any stage.

Though SMEs often point to their small size to explain their informal HR processes, Carter explains that’s not a real excuse.

“SMEs have an advantage because if they are writing their procedures from scratch, they can take into account the current and evolving HR and talent market landscape and ensure their processes are a fit.”

Legacy systems, she explains, which larger companies tend to use, have the potential to become bloated and overcomplicated over time, increasing recruitment inefficiency.

“Ensuring that processes are built correctly from the start helps you save time in the long run,” she advises.

How to Create a Hiring Model that Works for You

Small and medium-sized businesses aren’t mini replicas of larger-sized enterprises and shouldn’t try to mimic the same HR procedures.

“Large organizations become siloed into departments like marketing, HR, or operations,” says Carter. This can lead to confusion over responsibilities, inefficient overlaps or disconnected communication and goals.

“In an SME, you tend to wear multiple hats so you can create a more holistic approach.”

One recruitment approach that’s especially popular right now is the lean (or agile) model. Agile recruitment can be a good fit for SMEs because at its core, it's flexible, collaborative and iterative.

“I’ve found that more and more HR professionals are approaching their work in an agile way, acting as something akin to product managers for the company culture. Collect feedback, try something on a small scale, collect more feedback, adjust, try again or launch across the company,” writes Karen Weeks, experienced Career Coach and Human Resources author.

Building a Talent Attraction and Employment Brand

Once you have an HR process in place, you can start presenting yourself to candidates. This involves more than a hastily written job ad posted on one or two massive job search sites. To compete with dynamic hiring competition, SMEs should intentionally plan an employment brand strategy.

Employer brand strategy can be tackled many ways, but it always requires defining your company’s values and mission. Rather than listing what candidates can expect in a potential role with uninviting, jargon-heavy job descriptions, an employment brand goes the extra mile to show candidates why they should want this kind of role at your company.

This doesn’t mean throwing all kinds of fancy branding, design or HR tricks into your hiring process.

“Be wary of jumping on the latest HR trends without being certain that that’s the best strategy for you,” says Carter. “Airbnb’s recent change to a fair compensation and remote working policy attracted 800,000 applicants.”

However, without a clear employer brand to attract the right candidates, AirBnB received more interest than they could handle, throwing a wrench into their hiring practice and ultimately damaging their employer brand.

A hand hovering over a digital interface that includes a large checklist icon, with smaller administration-related icons hovering around it.

Does HR Tech Help or Hinder?

A quick Google search shows dozens, if not hundreds, of software applications promising a range of human resources solutions that can be customized seemingly infinitely. While some programs might be right for your SME at certain stages of the recruitment process, Carter warns that SMEs should be careful before implementing complicated HR tech.

Relying heavily on the wrong software will waste time and potentially make your process too complex. The overall idea when developing a structured HR plan and an employment brand strategy should be to reduce the number of applicants rather than increase them.” She says.

The difference is “the quality and fit of the applications received should be much higher. You can then focus on tech to help keep track of the applicants, rather than relying on keywords to help highlight which CVs you should read because reading them all would be impossible.”

Tech should complement your talent attraction and employer branding strategy, instead of driving it.

Hiring Best Practices Checklist

  • Create and document a written human resources strategy and plan (including a step-by-step recruitment process)

  • Define your talent attraction and employment brand (why this job at this company)

  • Assess whether you really need HR tech and if you do, choose based on your needs

  • Collect feedback from applicants and employees involved in hiring (among other potential sources)

  • Research, redesign or redefine your HR strategy as needed


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