‘Just in time’ HR helps small firms fill gaps

Growing companies – that can’t yet afford an HR professional – turn to consultants for help
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/22/2013

Several years ago, Jeanne McGregor realized her small company was in need of some help. Con-Tech DKI, an emergency service and restoration contractor firm, was too small to justify a human resources department but had grown to a size where it needed more support in the areas of recruitment and HR issues.

“We decided that as we grew our company, we weren’t too familiar with all the HR laws or policies, and we wanted to become a better employer,” says McGregor, co-owner and vice-president of Con-Tech in Toronto, which deals mostly with insurance-related damages involving water, fire, wind and vehicle impact to residential and commercial properties.

In hiring HR consulting firm Bridgepoint and its president, Monica Beauregard, Con-Tech received input on how it should proceed with certain issues, says McGregor.

“For a long time, our staff wasn’t that big, so that’s why we sort of kept having a subcontractor working for us rather than somebody sitting at the office with nothing to do. We seem to go through HR issues in waves, they’re never evenly spaced out, so to hire somebody to do certain things, I just don’t think it’s warranted.”

Their solution is “just-in-time HR support,” providing a team of resources who don’t need to be salaried employees, says Beauregard.

“They get senior advice just when it is needed. It (helps) them implement HR best practices and also keeps them compliant — avoiding potential costs in the end. We get to know their culture and match our advice to that.”

That’s the advantage of using a small consulting firm and being able to deal with one person, according to McGregor.

“I build a lot of my business relationships with people that I really connect with.”

Recruitment needs

Recruitment was one area that needed greater support at Con-Tech, particularly when it came to screening, which was previously handled by McGregor.

“It was just too overwhelming, I didn’t have the time to sort through CVs and to do telephone screening — it just took so much of my time. And I don’t even know if I was asking the right questions. She draws the skill sets from the candidates.”

Beauregard also helps with job postings.

“She would give us the best candidates from the postings and then we would run through the shortlist and tell her which ones to go ahead with for telephone screening,” says McGregor.

Candidates are then brought on-site and, if liked, brought back for a second interview.

“Earlier on, I used to bring (Beauregard) in all the time for our interviews, just so she could give me the groundwork on what to ask for certain jobs and what we’re looking for,” says McGregor. “She helped me define what we were looking for… I’m more comfortable now — before I would be all over the place.”

Bridgepoint acts as a virtual HR department for Con-Tech, says Beauregard.

“When they have positions open, we help them create a posting, we recommend where to recruit, we post and pre-screen resumés, conduct telephone screens, facilitate interviews, do reference and background checks and assist with the offer letter.”

HR issues

The consulting firm has also helped with HR issues. If it’s a fairly straightforward matter, McGregor says she bounces ideas off of Beauregard to get her take on the situation and steer her toward some kind of resolution.

For example, one Con-Tech employee went on a vacation and did not return to work. She kept providing information that was inconsistent with her original story.

“Monica helped me tease the information out and I was able to document and reference it to her newer excuses,” says McGregor. “Eventually, I had sufficient information to terminate her with cause.”

In another case, a project manager assistant volunteered to help out a new project manager for about six weeks, and her original project manager left the company shortly thereafter. The assistant then came looking for compensation for “a considerable amount of money, with no prior agreement between the two parties,” says McGregor.

“She was busier than the other (project manager assistants) but the new project manager was not functioning at a full capacity at that point. During this time, she worked during work hours and rarely stayed late to work. Monica was able to help me achieve what I felt was a reasonable compensation.”

And if an issue such as a termination looks too complicated, the consultant will not hesitate to recommend that Con-Tech consult a lawyer.

“If you’re looking for an HR lawyer, a consultant would be the first to ask because they’ve probably had a lot of exposure and experience,” says McGregor.

“And what’s great is (Beauregard) was able to connect me with a lawyer that I could connect with.”

Going forward, Con-Tech has decided to take a good look at its employee handbook, which has been revised in small segments over time, she says. Bridgepoint will review it in its entirety to update or add new policies around issues such as personal phones and Facebook usage during office hours.

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