Meet the pro who built an HR department during the pandemic


When Maggie Smith joined Traliant in April 2021, the organization had no formal HR function.

The company controller sent out job offer letters and made sure new hires got to the right place on their first day. And a contractor did a lot of the recruiting. Apart from that, there was no real HR department at the 5 year old company.

“There were so many things to deal with at once,” Smith recalls reflecting on his first week on the job. “Unfortunately, I felt like a lot of trouble was avoided when HR came into the picture.”

By May, Smith had a plan for the rest of the year. Traliant needed to review compensation, an area that lacked a formal mechanism. It also needed an applicant tracking system, a human resources information system, and an employee handbook — and the policies for completing it.

After creating a plan that addressed each of these elements, Smith shared it with the entire company and committed to completing each step. She posted it publicly so people could follow her progress and give employees concerned about certain issues “peace of mind.”

“I did everything on that list. It was like a marathon,” Smith said. “When I finally hit one year old, I was tired. There was so much stuff there.”

While equipping Traliant with the HR functionality it needed to continue growing, Smith said she learned some key lessons along the way, collecting both advice for other HR professionals and reminders for his own career path.

Maggie Smith

Permission granted by Maggie Smith

Pros: A lesson in progress rather than perfection

A week into her new job, Smith noticed a pattern in the conversations she had with Traliant workers: Much of the comments about their work experiences focused on benefits. At the time, Traliant offered medical, dental, vision services, and a 401(k). “But that was it,” Smith said.

So Smith surveyed employees to assess benefits issues. An “overwhelming number” of people responded to the survey sent by Smith, and the feedback helped Traliant select the voluntary benefits it was offering later that year during open enrollment.

“It was a big priority because everyone had pent up feelings around the benefits, and I was the person who could address that,” Smith said. “You don’t want to offer benefits that are of no use to anyone, so you really want to leverage feedback to understand what people want.”

Traliant has expanded its benefits offering by adding life, critical illness and voluntary accident insurance, as well as identity theft coverage and legal services. It also adopted an employee assistance plan and a new option for health benefits.

Although he made sure that the offers would meet employee expectations, Smith came away with regret: “I’m not suggesting going out with so many voluntary benefits at once, because there’s a lot of information to be had. both for employees. But sometimes you have to balance the price, if you can get more for your money.”

Smith said the process of adding new options taught him to value progress over perfection. “I knew it was my first pass at this it was better, but it wasn’t where I wanted to be,” she said. “This is an important point to emphasize. If you’re a small HR department, you won’t be able to go from zero to 100 right away. You will make progressive differences. »

Creation of an employee handbook

Smith’s next priority was to create an employee handbook.

“We were growing and we didn’t have an employee handbook. I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is so important,'” she said with a laugh. Workers can consider a employee handbook like a rulebook, but most need it as a resource, Smith pointed out, “There’s no way they’re remembering every single thing you deploy.”

Smith’s work on the manual spurred an effort to create policies that the organization had done without since its inception. The company had no policy regarding leave for jury duty or bereavement, for example. Smith learned this when she found out that a worker was taking a vacation after a relative died.

“It was really about developing all the policies and then working backwards and shaping them into a manual, so it was a one-stop reference for employees,” she said.

Lessons learned and way to go

As Smith reflected on her freshman year, she identified key lessons learned from building an HR department.

First: listen to employees. When reviewing new programs or upgrading existing ones, it is important to consider feedback from the people who use them. Smith wanted to upgrade Traliant’s EAP, but the multitude of options overwhelmed her.

So she decided to ask employees what would be most helpful, and it changed the course of her research. Additionally, the survey process gave him insight into his employee base: “In writing the survey questions, I was not just researching the solution we wanted to implement, but taking the pulse of mental health in our organization.”

Smith learned another lesson throughout his freshman year, though this one is more relevant to his own career path than the organization’s burgeoning HR department. She had taken on the task of adding a new ATS and HRIS, which required some due diligence. “But I overdid it,” she admitted. Smith looked at nine different options for an HRIS, with each option involving calls and searches. “That was my biggest mistake because I wasted time. I talked to too many people.”

Overall, the year went smoothly for Smith, who said he didn’t find it very stressful. However, she felt motivated to work quickly, in part because of the uncertainty felt by workers due to the pandemic.

“People were frustrated. Their mental health was a bit scattered,” Smith recalled. “When I arrived, I felt more pressure to work faster. It felt like I was laying down rails because the train was coming.”

“I don’t know if everyone who forges an HR department feels that way, but I wanted to move quickly to secure some of the foundations that we didn’t have without a formal department. But I also wanted to create opportunities for employees in s engage and interact together.”

Smith admitted she felt tired by the time she came to her one-year anniversary with Traliant. She took a few days off at the end of the year and got a massage. And she has a big trip planned for later this summer, when a part-time employee is trained and ready to fill in the gaps.

Next year, she plans to take less. “You can’t run a marathon year after year,” she said. She plans to focus on a few key issues, like the company’s 401(k) plan platform and its work organization models.

“Our plans for the future are focused on growth. We have grown over the past year, but how do we build a solid infrastructure that also supports different infrastructures?” she asked. “It’s something that I really continue to consider.”


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