HR Essentials for small businesses – getting the foundations right

I recently delivered my ‘HR Essentials for Small Businesses’ workshop to a group of business leaders based in the Leicestershire area. This was in conjunction with the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP).

The LLEP is a strategic body led made up of local government and business leaders as well as senior education and third sector representatives. Their remit is to drive forward regeneration and growth of the local economy, so it was great to be involved with them.

It was also great to see some many people, and from a variety of businesses; all interested in learning more about my thoughts on how a good HR framework, aligned to the individuality of the business, not only helps compliance with employment law, but also enables a successful and sustainable business.

The foundations of good people management.

So, what are my thoughts? Well I believe a simple HR framework is the foundation of good people management.

Not only will it help with staying on the right side of the law, and support you to be a good employer, which is one of the key ingredients of creating a successful and sustainable business.

HR frameworks

So, what do I mean by a HR framework?

I mean policies, procedures and approaches that underpin your people management.

The ‘approach’ element is critical; you can’t expect documents alone to provide those strong foundations you need to grow.

Your HR framework should also reflect the culture of your organisation.

By this I mean, the ethos and values of your organisation:

  • what type of employer you are
  • the type of environment you wish to create for your employees

Most employers think it is costly to put an effective HR framework in place. This is not the case, as not doing so actually costs the business more in the long term.

Having a structure in place, where everyone knows what the expectations are and what the organisation stands provides clarity, avoiding ambiguity.

A good HR framework should include

  • Job descriptions and structure
  • Basic policies and procedures
  • Clear contracts of employment
  • An employee handbook
  • Good leadership and management

These elements need to be aligned to your overall strategy to be fully effective though. Let’s look at each in more detail:

Job Descriptions and structure

I think these are key. If you haven’t defined the job and where it sits in the business how can you recruit the right person for it, and then manage them effectively?

Role definition is also a crucial part of establishing clear performance expectations. If you don’t define roles it can be very difficult to manage your people; and if they under perform this could be costly.

Basic policies and procedures

These are written statements about how an organisation will manage employment activity. They provide foundation and structure, and can help managers, employees, and customers/clients. They do not have to be complicated.

The simpler the better, as people are far more likely to follow them; and don’t have any more than you need (I am sure you already have enough policies your managers must follow without adding too many more!).

The best ones are written in the context of the individual business, rather than templates from the internet. Make sure yours are engaging. Don’t use a ‘control and command’ style if you want to get the most from your people.

Contracts of Employment

These are legally-binding agreements between an employer and an employee.

They consist of expressed terms (the ‘written statement of particulars’) and implied terms (unwritten but in existence through custom and practice or how a manager behaves). The clearer they are the better for all.

Employee Handbook

A good employee handbook contains information about company culture, as well as your policies and procedures. As with your policies and procedures, make sure your handbook is simple yet engaging, you want people to read it, don’t you?

Good leadership and management

Let’s be clear, ‘leadership’ and ‘management’ are different although linked. Both are critical to your HR framework, so don’t be one of the business leaders that forgets this element, or you’ll fail.

When do you need your HR framework?

In my opinion you need this before you start building your team, after all, would you build a house on weak foundations? How will you hire without a job description? how will you attract people to work for you if you have no clear standards? and how will you engage and manage your expanding team if you have no rules or rewards? It’s an investment that can increase productivity and reduce the risks I have talked about


  • Put your HR Framework is in place asap
  • Make sure your structures, documents and processes are easy to understand
  • Give your employees copies of the relevant documentation on their first day of employment
  • Train your managers and supervisors so they understand your HR Framework and work to it
  • Periodically review your policies and procedures to ensure they are appropriate and up to date
  • Add more policies and procedures as you grow – the more people you employ the more you will need

I hope you found this article useful. If you would like to know more email me at: