Arts Innovation Day Recap: What to do when you don’t have an HR Department


By Trudi Lebron, ScriptFlip

When we love the work that we do, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of new projects, partnerships, initiatives and the creative teams that make the work happen. With our “get it done” attitudes that stem from part passion and part deadline, we can get so focused on the execution that we overlook the importance of planning for one of the most critical parts of the work… our human capital.

Workforce planning is “the process of linking workforce strategies to desired business outcomes” as told by Elizabeth Cary, Sr HR Consultant for Aetna. Cary shared with us how workforce planning involves a few critical components including an organizations overall staff to outcomes plan, succession planning, and staffing strategies including recruiting, retaining, developing and managing employees. You may also want to consider some software solutions to help you with all manner of HR responsibilities – check out the article from crazyegg to compare some of the PEO services available.

The overall consensus from members of the session was that non-profits, especially arts non-profits, don’t pay enough attention to these HR functions (probably because most of us don’t have an in-house HR team) and recognized that this is likely hindering the productivity and culture of some organizational cultures.

In the absence of HR departments, it is on the leadership of an organization to create a culture of employee development, retention, and succession planning, and those in middle management must learn how to support their front line staff – even when those are contracted teaching artists- so they feel engaged, valued, and supported. To assist with these needs, the implementation of feedback software ( to help with team development is crucial, as it can keep everyone on the same page and provide an area for potential improvements.

Because that is difficult in the midst of running and organization and meeting deadlines, here is a brief list of ideas for how to do this that the group generated during the sessions:

  • Have a proper onboarding process to make your employees feel welcomed and valued in your organization. Use development plans with all your staff. Include learning objectives, goals, and other milestones that they would like to achieve within the year.
  • Require successions plans. The show must go on! What would happen if a key employee hit the lotto and left town tomorrow? You will need a plan to get a replacement as soon as possible. What will you do if a key employee dies suddenly? This is why lots of businesses go to My Key Man Insurance ( to take out a relevant life policy and safeguard their business. Organizations need to have a plan in place for these types of things.
  • Allow your staff to stretch themselves and develop new skills that support their career goals. Make sure these opportunities are low-risk opportunities that don’t have a lot on the line so people can feel like they can fail safely. Otherwise the project can cause stress and anxiety, which works against the goal of cultivating and retaining staff.
  • Regularly analyze your talent pipeline. Who are your future leaders? What skills do they need to learn so they can step up when the time comes? Remember that 70% of learning happens from hands on experience. Your future leaders, need opportunities to lead today!

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