Most owners of businesses and managers of organisations of every size will readily tell you that, apart from their customers, their employees are their most important asset. For this reason, it's easy to understand why large organisations invest in dedicated Human Resources (HR) departments.
However, in recent years, the role of the HR function in companies has extended beyond the traditional activities of recruitment and pay and benefits. Today, managers understand that the retention of their staff and the long-term success and performance of their organisation depends on their staff being positively engaged and professionally fulfilled.
Achieving such an outcome, however, is not always easy. Add to that the increasing and complex nature of employment legislation and the challenge becomes even more daunting.
As a result, HR management has now become, not just a 'nice-to-have', but an essential part of running any organisation. However, for many small and medium-sized organisations their problem is they are not in a position to afford their own dedicated HR department.
This week, I met with Jerome Forde, managing director, of Forde HR Solutions. A tall and imposing man with an engaging personality, Jerome has spent most of his life studying and working in the areas of human resource management and organisational behaviour.
Two years ago, he made the courageous decision to start his own HR business and today works with organisations, both large and small, right across the country.
"Our services can be divided into two main areas. Firstly, we look after the HR needs of small- and medium-sized businesses who do not have the resources to manage their HR responsibilities in-house," explains Jerome.
"We do this largely through an outsourced model using cloud-based technology, where our software system manages a company's requirements such as employment contracts, attendance, holidays and sick leave," he adds.
In this way, client organisations are freed up to focus on key priorities areas such as productivity, service and revenue generation while making sure that the necessary HR policies and procedures are in place to ensure they are fully compliant with all employment regulations.
"In addition to our outsourcing model, we also offer a range of other professional services to large and medium organisations. These include carrying out reviews where we assess organisational effectiveness and employee engagement.
"We also offer mediation support to management and employees in resolving workplace conflicts," adds Jerome.
Less than two years since its inception, the company already has a long and impressive list of large and medium-sized clients across the public, private and not-for- profit sectors.
Public sector clients include Coillte and the National Aquatic Centre, Trinity College Dublin and the National Curriculum Development Board. Private sector clients include a number of banks and credit unions, professional services companies, pharmaceutical and manufacturing firms, agricultural employers, the Centra and Supervalu retail stores, hotels and leisure sector operators and a number of regional and national construction firms.
In addition, the company works with a number of well-known national not-for-profit organisations - such as St Vincent de Paul.
It's a broad range of clients for any company to deal with - but then Jerome has built up an extensive experience in the field of HR through a very unusual and highly varied career.
Jerome Forde grew up in Limerick. He studied in Trinity College Dublin, where he graduated with a master's degree in organisational behaviour. Throughout his career, his commitment to continuous development has seen him return to education on a number of occasions, graduating with a second master's degree - in ethics, from Dublin City University - a diploma in business strategy from the Irish Management Institute, and a myriad of qualifications in areas such as mediation and performance coaching.
"What I actually set out to become was a secondary school teacher," explains Jerome with a hearty laugh. "I had enrolled in Thomond College, now Limerick University, but left soon after to take up a job offer in what was then the Department of Labour," he adds.
While he joined as part of their personnel department, most of his 15 years in the Department of Labour was spent working in the Labour Relations Commission, the Labour Court and on the drafting of important employment legislation.
In 2000, he left the public service to join the HR department of AIB, where his work focused on managing employee and union relations as well as developing HR policy and best practice.
"It was an exciting time in the bank during what was a period of rapid expansion," explains Jerome. "But it was also a time of great turbulence and change. I gained great experience about how HR management could be applied so as to benefit the performance of a business from the perspective of contribution and profitability," he adds.
While there, he was part of the management team which set up a HR shared services structure, as well as introducing one of the first whistleblowing policies for any organisation in Ireland.
However, by 2006, he was ready for a change and moved to take up a very different role as director of human resources with the archdiocese of Dublin. Here, he was responsible for addressing the HR needs of over 200 different employers, including parishes, colleges and social service providers.
"This was also a challenging time - as it was right in the middle of investigations and reports into child abuse in the church," explains Jerome, who worked with the dioceses to put in place Garda vetting for all priests, volunteers and lay staff.
However, Jerome had for a long time held the desire to set up his own business.
His enterprising nature and strong work ethic were evident from an early age. During his secondary school years, he worked part time in his local Tesco. In college he worked nights in bars and at the weekends would travel back to his native Limerick to make extra money DJ-ing in discos around the county.
Even while working in the Department of Labour, he would head straight from the Labour Court to the RTE's TV studios where he worked in the evenings as a continuity announcer introducing the news and other programmes.
"I had always been nursing the idea of setting up my own business and finally, in 2012, I felt it was time to make the move.
"HR outsourcing made the most sense because it fitted with my experience. In addition, the technology to provide the service was becoming more affordable and the use of cloud-based solutions were now more widely accepted," explains Jerome.
"I wanted the company to become the virtual HR office at the end of the hall," he adds confidently.
Married and now with a young family to provide for, Jerome set aside a maximum of 12 months in which to prepare and plan his new venture before he would need to bring in revenue. With his preparation complete, he decided that the best way to introduce himself to new clients was by offering to conduct organisational reviews of companies, whereby he would assess their effectiveness from a people management perspective. From there, he made recommendations as to how the organisation could improve and as a result was invited to provide further services such as mediation and conflict resolution.
Gradually, and over time, he began to build up his client base and as it grew so too did his confidence.
Next, he began carrying out work place investigations into areas such as bullying and harassment and soon afterwards introduced training programmes for managers to help them better understand their own roles and the needs of those who reported to them.
All the while, he continued to refine his outsourcing model and improve the technology platform over which it would be delivered.
Starting a new business, however, with such a variety of services was not without its challenges. Initially, and with limited cash to invest, he struggled with how best to advertise and promote the business to his target market in a cost-effective manner. His response was to focus heavily on developing a strong social media and online presence.
In addition, he prepared short but highly professional and informative videos which he posted on his website and which served to demonstrate his specialist knowledge of the HR area.
His strategy worked and soon he had more customers than he himself could manage. So just like his clients, he began to recruit key staff and partners to help in servicing his growing customer base. Some acted as a support to clients using the company's outsourced model, while others were placed directly in clients' businesses - either on a full- or part-time basis.
In more recent times, Jerome has noticed that as the economy continues to improve, the role of his company is changing.
While in the early days much of his work focused on helping companies downsize, today, he is more focused on supporting organisations which are in a growth and expansion mode.
With an eye focused on future growth, Jerome is currently expanding nationwide. He wants to develop a suite of training programmes in employee relations, management and mediation as well as consultancy in the area of change management and whistleblowing. Jerome Forde always wanted to start his own business. For years he worked in a variety of different jobs, gaining valuable experience. It was that experience, together with falling technology prices and ever-increasing employment regulation that helped create the perfect opportunity.
But opportunities are just that. Taking them is what really counts. Anyone who has ever set up a business knows just how much courage and determination is required. Thankfully, for Jerome Forde and the organisations he serves, he has plenty of both.
For further information contact Forde HR Solutions, 77 Sir John Rogerson's Quay, Dublin 2. Tel: 01 640 1931 www.fordehr.ie
"Try to identify others who share the same values as you do and with whom you can collaborate. This will allow you share scarce resources, as well as taking on larger projects than you might otherwise have not been able to pitch for on you own."
"You only get one chance to establish credibility in the marketplace. So don't blow it. This is especially true in the area of professional services. Make sure your product or service delivers real value to clients which will win you further business, more clients."
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Sunday Indo Business