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Human Resources Q&A: Making it happen as the Lone HR Ranger

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It’s Monday morning at 8:00 a.m. With your morning beverage of choice in hand, you’ve arrived at the office a little earlier than usual because you wanted to get a head start at organizing your day. You’ve got a few interviews lined up for that new Special Events Coordinator, the Group Insurance representative is hosting a lunch & learn on the changes that are scheduled to take effect next week and payroll is due by noon. Oh, and you’ve got some final touches to make to the board report that needs to be out by end of day! You’ve just settled in at your computer and a colleague steps in and announces, “We have a problem with Jane!”

Sound remotely familiar?

All too often seen in the nonprofit sector is the Lone HR Ranger! Whether your title is Generalist, Manager or Director, you’re juggling it all. From the filing of employee information, to the administration of group insurance to interviews and at a more senior level, the preparation of and management of an operational plan and budget – the Lone HR Ranger is managing it all. Or at least is attempting to! There exists a real expectation (possibly an unreasonable one) that a single individual should manage the ‘A-Z’ of an organization’s people function entirely solo – all while adding value at a strategic level. This reality is in most instances an outcome of budgetary restraints.

So how do you make it all happen? Here are a three ways to share the load on a shoe-string budget!

1. Introduce self-service fundamentals

This familiar saying rings true for HR – “The devil is in the details.” Transactional, routine processes can bog you down! Think about the requests you receive most often — if you’re not sure what they are, take a week to jot them down and you’ll soon see a pattern. Better still, ask your colleagues for their suggestions. Items like vacation request forms, benefit claim forms and employee information change forms are common requests that don’t need your undivided attention.

1. First, ensure these items are automated; fill-in forms are much easier on the eyes and are more likely to be processed with greater accuracy.

2. Then, collaborate with an IT colleague to establish a central repository that’s accessible by all those that need access to these fundamentals. For instance, you may have an internal intranet, Microsoft SharePoint or even a common/public network drive that can be home to these items.

3. Finally, promote it so that everyone knows it’s available! You’ll reclaim time and experience reduced interruptions through the day.

2. Offer volunteer, in-practicum or pro-bono assignments

Working with volunteers or unpaid professionals is not new to most in the nonprofit sector, however, a meaningful assignment that provides valuable experience is an offering that can be easily constructed within HR. For instance, I once attracted a database specialist (she was launching her information & systems consultancy practice) to assist in the process of identifying an applicant tracking system. The currency for her was the organization’s logo on her website to build credibility, profile and experience.

3. Create an internship

Before you discount a paid internship, there are varying models that can be offered and there’s bound to be one that’s a right fit for your organization. If you’re in a position to offer any one of these internship models, it is likely you’ll be expected to coach and mentor, provide on-the-job training, incorporate networking opportunities and demonstrate the interns’ knowledge development. As mentioned above in option 2, you’ll first need to design a meaningful assignment – one that offers value to both parties. Consider:

1. Hiring a summer student through the Government of Canada’s Youth Employment Strategy. As an employer, you can apply for wage subsidies to fund summer opportunities for students age 15-30.

2. A co-operative placement by partnering with a local college or university. Top academic students are selected giving opportunity to integrate their learning with practical hands on experience.

3. An apprenticeship in collaboration with your local provincial ministry (such as the Ministry of Training, Colleges & Universities in Ontario). The skilled trades are an area of focused rejuvenation and there are benefits available to host employers.

I suspect as you read through these options you’re saying to yourself, this is more work than I have time for! And yes, there will be some investment of time for you to get an option in place. However, once you’ve established self-service for the fundamentals, or you’ve enlisted pro-bono expertise, or your summer intern is scheduling your interviews, you’ll wonder how you ever managed it all before! And, most importantly, you’ll free up time to think about being proactive!

What are you doing to make it happen as a Lone HR Ranger?

To submit a question for a future column please leave a comment below or contact No identifying information will appear in this column. For paid professional advice about an urgent or complex situation, contact Veronica directly.

V. Utton & Associates offers boutique-style human resource management services to small and mid-sized organizations with particular expertise in the non-profit sector. For a fresh "VU" on people practices contact us at

Disclaimer: Advice and recommendations are based on limited information provided and should be used as a guideline only. Neither the author nor make any warranty, express or implied, or assume any legal liability for accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information provided in whole or in part within this article.

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