HR Consulting Questions to Ask for a Startup

by Ruth Mayhew

Many startups seek advice from human resources consultants before they staff an entire HR department. And, for many companies, this is the way to go, provided they find the right consultant for the job who can give prudent and credible advice. Depending on your areas of expertise, you can provide high-level, generalist-type services to startup entities, but you must know where the business is heading, what its goals are and how much time and energy you intend to spend guiding the company through HR and workforce decisions.

Strategy vs. Function

When you're consulting the founder of a startup entity, one of the key issues that you must know is to what extent you're involved in the business and its workforce development. Are you an HR consultant that participates in the defining the strategic direction of the company's workforce? Or, are you an HR consultant engaged to merely assist with implementing strategy or to handle the functional activities of the HR department? If it's the latter, you may be fulfilling the role of an HR independent contractor and not necessarily an HR consultant. These are questions that define your role as the company's HR adviser.

Corporate Image

Becoming an "employer of choice" is a reasonably attainable goal for most employers, provided the company is willing to invest the time and effort to develop its corporate brand concerning recruitment and employment practices. As the startup's HR consultant, it's essential that you know whether the founder believes being an employer of choice is a worthwhile goal or if her priority is branding the company's product or service. If she wants the company to become an employer of choice, then you'll need to work on defining what that means for your industry and geographic area.

Billing vs. Retainer

The less ambiguity about pay, the better your relationship will be when you're consulting any client, regardless of whether it's a startup entity or an established organization. Your role will likely determine how you're paid -- whether your services will include developing the company's workforce strategy or if you're primarily responsible for handling tactical HR processes. If you provide consulting on a regular basis and are often the first person the founder contacts when she's contemplating almost any business decision, then suggest a retainer, plus hourly fee for your services. If you're working on a project basis, decide whether your pricing should be project-based of if you want to be paid by the hour.

Compensation and Benefits

Not compensation and benefits for you -- talk about what the startup's plans are for compensation and benefits for its employees. There are comp strategies and then there are benefits issues of which you both should be fully aware. If you're well-versed in this area, ask whether the startup is focused on attracting the best and the brightest workers by providing high compensation and benefits, or whether limited resources will force the company to pay what it can and stick to basic wages and benefits.

Recruiting and Hiring

One of the milestones for a startup entity is hiring its first employee. As the startup's HR consultant, you will likely be involved in either developing recruitment strategy or maybe even doing some of the recruiting yourself. This is another reason why estimating how large of a role you play in the entity's growth and development is particularly important. Ask the startup founder to describe her ideal workforce and what she believes it will take to get there. Answers to these questions will shed light on the type of advice she will expect from you about talent acquisition.

About the Author

Ruth Mayhew began writing in 1985. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry" and "Human Resources Managers Appraisal Schemes." Mayhew earned senior professional human resources certification from the Human Resources Certification Institute and holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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