CASE STUDYNatalie Trionfi felt concerned when she left an Australian bank to run a small accounting firm in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. She always had an HR department to oversee the writing of contracts, compliance with legislation and correct wages.
“HR is really, really important in every business, whether they know it or not. There are so many fines you can get these days with bullying and harassment if they don’t have the right procedures in place,” says Trionfi, office manager for Hansens Accounting, a 12-staff firm which turns over $2 million a year.
HR is a common weakness in small businesses and can take up a lot of time. Dedicated HR staff are too expensive yet the penalties for paying staff incorrectly can be enormous.
However, Trionfi was also short of time to spend on any one activity. She has several staff to manage, runs the back office and all internal projects including IT.
“I’m the right-hand girl to the partner. Anything that runs this place I manage,” she says.
Hansens had set up an online HR management service, EnableHR, a year before Trionfi had arrived. The firm uses it to store all contracts and performance management reports that are updated regularly with every government decision.
“It’s a one-stop place for our contracts. You don’t have an HR manager to ask how things happen, EnableHR does everything for you. It’s really easy,” Trionfi says.
Keeping on Top
There is a huge difference between Hansens’ HR procedures before and after the EnableHR system, Trionfi says. She is still trying to find contracts and performance reviews from before 2012.
“I assume they’re in one central place on a C: drive somewhere under HR. The issue is how do I look up contracts from three years ago? Even last year’s performance review – where would I find it?”
In theory there’s nothing wrong with storing contracts in a folder on a computer, as long as everyone knows which folder. However, in moving to an online system it’s removed the need to search for the files themselves as they are all saved into EnableHR.
An up-to-date set of documents and procedures is critical to maintaining consistency for staff and compliance with regulations. Trionfi knows several clients at Hansens who have no HR system at all. Some don’t bother with contracts, or sketch out something on a piece of paper. “It is quite scary for anyone who is running their own business and have one or two staff,” she says. “How do they manage their staff? Do they have contracts in place? How do they manage performance and where is everything documented?”
EnableHR is Trionfi’s first online HR management solution. Navigation is fairly straightforward and didn’t take long to pick up, she says. “Anyone can get on and do it. Even the receptionist could get on it and say this is very easy to navigate.”
In a business with 12 staff there are issues every day around payment of wages, hiring, firing, requests for maternity leave or annual leave, and so on. EnableHR includes step-by-step checklists for the most common processes. The instructions on the online service are updated regularly by FCB Workplace Law, Australia’s largest specialist workplace law firm.
“It makes life easier. You follow it and you know you’re doing it right. Without a system you think what you’re doing is right, but you can never assume,” Trionfi says.
Hansens uses EnableHR to fill holes in the firm’s knowledge base and skill set. The processes required to recruit and retain staff are often skipped in small businesses, resulting in poor hires or higher turnover. “Accountants don’t know how to interview or reference checks or performance management or the legalities. That’s not what they do,” Trionfi says.
OH&S (occupational health and safety) and performance management are Trionfi’s favourite tools. She uses the service monthly for leave requests such as following up medical certificates, recruiting and inducting.
“It’s because I’m not a specialist in HR that we can manage performance and know that we’re doing it right and have the right forms,” she says.
“I know that my contracts are right which is a huge thing. Normally I’d just go to HR and say, ‘I need this’, but now I’m doing it. I know the basics of how HR work and now I know I’m doing it right,” Trionfi says.
It is difficult to estimate the dollar value of the service. Without it Trionfi says she would spend a lot of time calling HR specialists for advice. She has saved many hours in writing and updating processes to make sure performance reviews, hires and fires were carried out consistently, she adds.
“Last month I had two starters. It would have taken me forever because we just updated all our contracts. I did it through the system (EnableHR) and it took half an hour per person,” Trionfi says.
She estimates the same process would have taken a day and a half per person, taking into account delays in requests for information from lawyers and advisers, without EnableHR.
Similarly, performance reviews are much faster. Trionfi estimates it takes 1.5 hours per person to update employment contracts, conduct a performance review interview and send signed letters for the firm’s 12 staff. Without the service the process would have taken a week in total, she says.
“The best thing is that you know everything is in one place. The contracts are updated to the latest legislation and it just makes everything so standard and easy,” Trionfi says.
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