Who’s Better – Big HR or Small HR?

This isn’t really a fair question, but someone asked me this recently.

What they were trying to get at was this: are HR Pros in very large, Fortune 500 companies better than the HR Pros you find in small to medium sized companies?

It’s not a question with a simple answer, because you find great HR Pros in both areas, and, you find horrible HR Pros in both areas. But here’s what I think you find more of in each:

Large HR Shop

  • HR Pros skilled in very specific segments – think 10 feet wide and a mile deep.
  • HR Pros that have a better understanding of technology (since they have the resources and need to use large scale systems).
  • HR Pros who have a higher level of what I call “political savvy” – they know how to CYA!
  • A larger percentage of HR Pros who fail to connect with business outcomes (calm down there big shop HR Pros!). With larger numbers and specialization, it’s more difficult to really connect your outcomes to the organization’s bottom line. Tell me what percent of revenue increase do you get by increasing marketing’s group overall diversity by 3 percent?  See – it’s difficult – the pie gets cut into too many slices to be noticeable.
  • HR Pros that have a better sense of programs that have broad reach (diversity/inclusion, OD, succession, etc.)
  • Big HR shops tend to have some bottom-feeders, which is more about the nature of large organizations than large HR (it’s easier to hide, and large organizations are more willing to give people too many chances).

Small HR Shop

  • HR Pros skilled in a variety of HR functions – think a mile wide and 10 feet deep.
  • HR Pros who are more creative (no money forces the creativity process – don’t argue with me until you have no money and still have a CEO yelling for results).
  • HR Pros who are skilled at telling executives, “No, you can’t do that” (as in no, you can’t hit employees no matter how much they frustrate you).
  • HR Pros who are forced to show exactly how much money will be “saved” or “made” for each decision they make – direct bottom line impact.
  • HR Pros who are real good fire fighters, and rarely have time to focus on the long term objective of moving the organizational people practices forward.

Is one better than the other?

So, who’s better? Depends on the needs of the organization you are working with.

But, here’s what I know: if you are a HR Pro in a small shop, and you’re good, and you like it, and you have aspirations of moving up in HR into a big shop – and here is a very good chance you will not like it. It’s just not for everyone.

Big HR shops get involved with some extremely cool projects — cutting edge HR stuff — which are great. Small HR shops really get an up-close and personal view of how their decision-making impacts the business, which can be extremely satisfying for those looking for that impact.

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I know great people in both Small and Big HR shops. I tend to see the big guys not respecting the small guys as much as they should, but that’s life – buy a helmet and deal with it (if you’re from a small shop you probably already know your helmet size). I also tend to see small HR making the bigger legal snafu’s, primarily because they tend to be moving so fast that things get missed.

Who’s better? Tthe HR Pro that can see the benefits of both, make relationships with both, and learn from both, yes, those are rare indeed.

This post was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.

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2 Comments on “Who’s Better – Big HR or Small HR?

  1. Thanks Tim – I have long since insisted that my choice to work in a smaller organisation (1,600 employees) is my choice – I am not a specialist and never will be and I like running my own shop. That said, I have worked in an organisation of 120,000 employees (only for six months) and the processes, structures and support they had in place was simply beautiful. Neither is for everyone so decide who you are and go get it… 🙂

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