In a very small organisation, with a limited number of employees, there isn’t always the need for a dedicated people professional. HR responsibilities can often be managed alongside another role. However, as the number of employees increases, a more structured people approach is usually needed, including formal policies and processes. This can be a single individual or a small team – depending on the complexity of the business. 

Being an HR professional in a small to medium sized business (SME) can be a very different experience from working in a large organisation. Typically, you would be an HR generalist and responsible for almost all the duties needed day-to-day. For particularly complex or specific projects, you can usually expect to draw on specialist external support.

Typical responsibilities for people professionals in small organisations

People professionals in small organisations tend to be HR generalists (sometimes referred to as human resources or personnel) and draw on their knowledge of many different aspects of the profession. The specific responsibilities they take on are shaped by organisation need but can cover many of the following: 

  • Recruitment 
  • Basic staff policies 
  • Workforce planning 
  • Holiday management 
  • Performance management 
  • Pay 
  • Staff issues 
  • People analytics 
  • Reward  
  • Training and development 

Making maximum impact as a a people professional in an SME

We asked HR professionals in small to medium sized business what was keeping them awake at night and what they would find most useful from the CIPD. 

Their answers gave us five core issues, all relating to how to make maximum impact as a people professional in an SME. They are: 

  1. How do I go about understanding and setting clear expectations of my role?
  2. How do I establish my priorities, balancing what the business says it wants with what I know it needs?
  3. How do I make a convincing business case for change or a new people approach?
  4. How can I best demonstrate my credibility and impact?
  5. What personal development is going to benefit me the most? 

In this report we’ve pulled together reflections from the HR professionals, business leaders and SME consultants we talked to, to bring together their ideas and practical guidance on how to go about tackling these core issues. 


Research report

Building HR capability in small UK firms

In a very small organisation, with a limited number of employees, it can be difficult to justify investment in a dedicated in-house people professional. However, that doesn’t mean that support isn’t needed. 

This report presents the outcomes of the People Skills pilot programme which provided small UK firms with free HR support and advice on demand. The programme was intended to assess whether there is demand for HR support amongst SMEs.

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