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How an HR Team of One Can Grow Their Department [5 Steps]

How can you, as an HR team of one, make the case for expanding your department to your leadership? We’ve got your full guide right here!

Kathleen O'Donnell

by Kathleen O'Donnell - April 26th, 2023


If you’ve ever introduced your entire HR department as “me, myself, and I,” then you know what life as an HR team of one is like. (It certainly simplifies the org chart!) This solo role can serve small organizations just fine for a while, but eventually, most companies will need to grow their HR departments alongside the rest of the business. 

So how can you, as an HR team of one, make the case for expanding your department to your leadership? We’ve got your full guide right here. 

The Pros and Cons of Life as an HR Team of One 

One of the perks of running HR solo includes getting the full scope of the HR role under your belt. It's great training as an HR generalist that can benefit your career later on, and you’ll never be bored since you get to wear all kinds of HR hats. 

And for creative and ambitious HR soloists, you have a unique opportunity to shape your organization’s culture by experimenting and designing policies you think could make your company a better place to work. Without the barrier of needing buy-in from your own team (it’s only you, after all), you can exercise more control and build the culture you’d most like to see.  

But the downsides of operating alone are real too. The workload offers the most significant challenge. At a certain point, it’s impossible to keep juggling all the balls you have in the air without letting one drop or burning yourself out as the company grows. 

Recognizing When It's Time to Grow Your HR Department

The hazards of an overworked or burned-out solo HR professional increase as your company grows. That doesn’t mean only growing in terms of employees, but also in regions your company serves, scope of business, or ambitions for the future. As any or all of these factors increase, your HR needs grow as well, and running HR becomes more complex. 

Burning out when you’re an HR team of one can easily happen when you’re part of a fast-growing company. You’re responsible for ensuring both employee well-being and company well-being. Plus, you’re tasked with running all the routine HR functions like reporting, compliance, benefits admin, recruitment, performance management, learning and development, workforce planning, and so on. 

Overworked and burned-out employees are a business risk, and an HR team is no exception. If you miss a deadline or skip a task because there’s simply no time to get it done, it can have serious legal consequences. 

On the other hand, if you stick strictly to the legal and compliance goals so none of those fall through the cracks, you risk losing that focus on employee performance, well-being, and culture because it’s too much for one person to handle in a growing organization. 

an infographic showing the responsibilities of an HR department of one form

Source: AIHR

5 Steps to Pitch Your HR Growth Action Plan to Leadership

It’s easy to see the need to expand your HR department when you’re running it alone — but another matter to convince your leadership team to approve and fund a change to your organizational structure. 

Here’s your action plan to make the most convincing case possible to expand your HR team. 

1. Identify the major areas of HR that need more help

Begin by identifying the biggest areas where your solo HR department needs more help and what’s most urgent to address. What is currently at the highest risk of slipping through the cracks — operations, legal, compliance, recruiting, or something else essential? 

Putting the priorities and urgency into focus will make it easier for your leadership team to understand why, – and what – you’re asking them to expand on in the structure of your HR department. “We have a lot to do and we need another person” isn’t as compelling as: “With one additional person to cover People Operations tasks like building organizational culture and processes, I can ensure the legal and compliance side is always on-point.”

2. Outlining the benefits of expanding your HR department

Don’t present the addition of an HR person as merely a cost — it’s also an opportunity for your organization, and the benefits in your action plan must be clear about how HR can help your business grow

For example, think about the long-term vision and goals of your entire organization. How will hiring an extra set of HR hands bring that future state closer? If your company plans to expand headcount, grow departments, move into new regions, or grow its products or services offering, HR plays a key role in all of these tasks and will need to grow along with the rest of the company. 

Your action plan should outline how growth in your HR team will directly assist the whole company’s growth, whether it’s through expanded recruiting capacity, a higher retention rate, more efficient processes, or anything else that you’ve identified as an opportunity. 

3. Showcase the impact of a larger HR team on the organization’s bottom line 

Making a strong case for expanding your existing HR team of one to your leadership is easier when you have hard numbers and clear metrics to show them. Calculating the ROI of your HR department is a great place to start — show them that HR isn’t just a cost, but also offers a return on the spend that helps your company grow and thrive. 

Plus, by adding headcount so the HR team isn’t just one overworked employee, you can also avoid expensive compliance or legal missteps. In fact, the reduced legal risk could offset the money spent on adding an employee to the HR department. 

Adding a team member can also free up time to explore potential automation solutions for HR tasks, such as payroll, new employee onboarding, and other currently manual processes. If you can hire one person who can set up and manage HR software that does the work of three people, your organizational capacity soars – and you can spend more time culture building and employee engagement. 

4. Outline the cost savings from adding an HR team member

Adding a new HR team member can add further savings too. Building a better company culture where employees are highly engaged boosts profitability by 23%, according to Gallup research

For example, a fully-staffed HR team can offer a better candidate experience when hiring and a better onboarding experience for new employees, which can boost your employer brand—critical in today’s hot hiring marketplace. 

If you could attract more top talent (and keep them longer) because your HR team had the time to spend on improving employee culture and experience, how much would your company save on recruiting costs and other turnover-related costs in the long run? Run those potential numbers and highlight them to your leadership team. 

5. Highlight how expanding HR can improve employee satisfaction 

Adding one or more HR team members to the existing structure of your HR department isn’t easy — for a start, it requires a new org chart, clear delineation of responsibilities, added financial resources, and training new team members. 

However, staffing your HR team adequately means focusing on employee engagement and well-being as a priority with dedicated resources instead of an afterthought on a too-crowded to-do list. 

When you gain time to focus on employee priorities and satisfaction, both the company and your employees benefit. 

Growing Your HR Team of One Into Many 

Running your company’s entire HR department alone can be a thrilling challenge. But as the company grows and your responsibilities become more than one person can handle, this action plan will help you convince your leadership of the case for HR expansion. 

Not quite ready to take the leap and grow your HR team now, but still want to level up your HR capabilities with an all-in-one solution? Take a tour of GoCo to explore how we can help you succeed today! 

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