Success in business is proportional to a company's success in managing its people.

Over the years, one of the most difficult challenges for business managers has always been managing and motivating employees. Changing values in the population as a whole have certainly impacted the average employee's desires, with respect to the balance between work time and personal time. These constant changes in peoples' desires and “hot buttons,” as well as acceptable norms of conduct, have made successful personnel management a real moving target. And, in today's more litigious society, the risk of improper handling of employees has taken on a much more sober tone. But, even in the face of these challenges and constant changes, success in business is almost always directly proportional to a company's success in managing its people.

The complexity of today's human resource issues can often take time away from the planning, marketing, and client relationship building that is critical to your business. In larger businesses, this has led to a specialized category of managers whose sole responsibility it is to stay current with the changes and regulations, as well as their company's current workforce roster and the processes essential to negotiating the complex people-managing matrix. Today, one could make a strong case supporting the very important stature of human resources management in the success of any company.

But, what about the small business? Do the same rules and risks apply? You bet they do - and, smart small business entrepreneurs are aware that there is no such thing as a “we're a small business” defense!

To assist wholesale distributors in staying more up-to-date with human resources issues, SUPPLY HOUSE TIMES and the Haws Corp. will present this column on a monthly basis throughout the balance of 2004. In it, we will provide some HR thought-starters, resources and best practices appropriate for consideration by the small businesses.

In upcoming months, we will discuss recruiting and hiring, benefits, training and development, performance evaluations, disciplinary actions, avoiding conflict, violence prevention, business ethics, health and wellness issues, safety in the workplace and regulatory issues. Each of these topics will be handled from the small business perspective, with appropriate best practices also included.

This information is in no way intended to be legal advice, nor is it intended to replace your need for local professional counsel, as it relates to applicable laws, regulations and/or specific circumstances you may be encountering. It is intended to raise the awareness of small business managers regarding the importance of proper handling of employees in today's world.

Sidebar: Best Practices

Each month, we'll provide several proven Best Practices. Readers are encouraged to send along any successful approaches they may be using in managing employees. We will feature the best of them in upcoming columns.

1. Make certain that someone “owns” Human Resources management.

It is essential in today's world that someone in every business carries the primary role for HR management. More than just a chain-of-command thing, someone should be responsible for keeping up with changes in local laws and regulations, employees (performances and disciplinary actions underway) and appropriate processes that mitigate the company's exposure with respect to improper employee handling. In a small business, the HR management function can be combined with other responsibilities. However, it should be considered a primary function, with close scrutiny by more senior management. In the absence of such scrutiny, the company may not know that a problem exists until it's too late.

2. Begin building an HR intelligence resource and network.

Search for a local resource such as an association of employers* or your state department of employment and training to advise and assist you with some of the HR tasks. These agencies can provide some services, such as designing new programs and policies, reviewing your current programs and coaching, mediating or assisting with disciplinary actions.

*One way to locate an employer resource in your area is by visiting Once there, scroll down and click on the “EAG” link. In this Web site you will find a directory of employer groups by state. There are 63 independent groups listed, which represent more than 70,000 employers nationwide. In addition to employer support services, many of these groups are involved in public policy and community affairs.