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Growing Without an HR Department

January 1, 1998
Related Topics: HR Services and Administration, Featured Article
Starting a company requires many decisions. One of the most important issues is setting up the right corporate structure. When Linda O. Crawford, CEO and president of DELTA Dallas Staffing Companies, established her company 15 years ago, it was a solo operation. After trial and error, a small core of employees emerged. Rather than build a traditional human resources department, she used qualified staff in a nontraditional way to handle HR functions. Here she shares her insights about how smaller growing companies can still succeed in a giant marketplace by leveraging everything they’ve got.

When you started out, what kinds of obstacles did you have to overcome?
Initially, people power and money were the primary obstacles. The start-up business began with $25,000 seed money and very little borrowing power. Managing growth and reinvesting profits were necessary to survive in the early days, and we’ve continued to maintain a conservative business plan, which requires hiring the right people to do the job.

Without an HR department, how did you designate human resources functions?
The best way to handle a problem isn’t always the one staring you in the face. So after trial and error, I set out to develop a proactive combination of leadership plus teamwork. Today, there are 26 employees—23 of whom are women. Also, 10 recruiters have been designated as Certified Personnel Consultants (CPC) and five recruiters have been designated as Certified Temporary Staffing Specialists (CTS) by Alexandria, Virginia-based The National Association of Personnel Services.

How do you handle recruitment?
All recruiting and hiring functions for our internal staff are carried out by members of a team—comprised of two or more of the following: myself, the controller and an operations manager. This group is our Leadership Team. Prospective DELTA Dallas employees are interviewed by members of the team. In most instances, the candidate is given an evaluation that reveals his or her attitudes, work style, strength and weaknesses in his or her field. Fortunately, our turnover statistics are lower than most organizations. Our average tenure is 7 1/2 years. And we’ve added people to our staff as needed to support our company’s growth.

How do you train your recruiters?
We have 16 employee recruiters who work on both external and internal recruiting. This area of employment requires the most extensive training because our recruiters must be familiar with so many different areas of our company: marketing, interviewing, managing workflow, recruiting at job fairs, complying with employment laws—and building strong relationships with our corporate clients. New hires for recruiting positions, therefore, spend approximately three months in training in all of these areas.

We continue cross training, allowing every DELTA Dallas employee to know the functions of others, define his or her own position and develop a sense of confidence. Administrative employees receive sales training. Recruiters are trained in front-desk operations. Everyone understands the job of others. Over time, we’ve seen our staff willing to step up to the plate and accept additional responsibilities. Cross training also helps us provide better customer service. Everyone is equipped to look after the needs of our customers.

So you’d describe your corporate culture as a team environment?
It’s definitely that. We are a team of leaders, which is important for a small company. Our people maintain a positive atmosphere. We look for people who are generally happy with themselves and the world. It eliminates pot stirring and gossip. For a small company to be the best it can be, it’s important for everyone to be of the same mindset. We want our people to be independent and also to have accountability. When someone is too me-oriented, that anomaly sticks out rather quickly. Once a small company sets its standards, it’s worse to keep a person who doesn’t fit in. My goal as a leader is to help others make their goals. That can be accomplished when everyone shares a common purpose.

Given a small staff, how do you ensure professional growth?
We encourage each employee to join a professional and/or civic group. Each employee at DELTA Dallas meets one-on-one with one of our team leaders and is encouraged to contribute ideas toward company objectives in the areas of marketing/public relations, employee development, customer intimacy, quality service, productivity and community involvement. During the last quarter of the year, the business plan for the new year is created by the Leadership Team, using employee and management ideas. Each employee contributes to the making of the corporate plan and policies. They help define objectives and goals for the year to come. No matter what position, all employees are given the green light to set goals for themselves and to achieve those goals. They’re also invited to annually write their own Strategy for Excellence by answering questions such as, "What motivates your top productivity?" and "Do you see yourself taking on more of a leadership role in the coming year and in what capacity?"

As a temporary staffing firm, how to you define your customers?
We have three customers: our job candidates, our corporate clients and ourselves. All of our customers are the reason for our success. We strive to balance the needs and concerns of all three equally. We believe in establishing lifelong relationships with our customers, both inside and outside our office, whose integrity and values are consistent with our own. We want all of these customers to be enthusiastically delighted.

Do you benchmark other successful companies?
Yes. Our people have benchmarked many companies with nontraditional styles of management, such as Southwest Airlines. The model organizations that reflect quality and success all possess passion and positive energy among its people. The atmosphere at DELTA Dallas is upbeat and enhanced because we embrace the challenge of inspiration and motivation daily. For example, toys and games are placed in the lobby for job candidates. Some may think we go a little too far with some tactics to keep motivation high, but it works for us.

How can potential corporate clients, and their human resources managers, improve their partnerships with staffing firms like yours?
Sometimes there isn’t a realization that we are employers too. We face exactly the same issues as our HR counterparts. For example, we have contingency workers on our payroll and have gone through the hiring process with them. At any given moment, there are more than 300 temporaries working for us and our corporate clients. The misconception is to view staffing firms as just temporary services that farm out individuals. In reality, the people we place on job assignments are our employees and our products. Because we’re in the business of hiring skilled people—who are becoming more difficult to find—we must always be finely-tuned to the pulse of the changing labor market.

Workforce, January 1998, Vol. 77, No. 1, pp. 16-17.

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