Human Resources – Challenges and Pitfalls in Managing this Vital Resource

Published April 6, 2015

People are the lifeblood of any organization whether they are paid staff, Directors, or volunteers. Without their passion and commitment, many of the best-laid plans would go to waste. These vital resources constitute a key area of many organizations that frequently gets short changed when it comes to planning and development and can take up large amounts of time and energy to manage properly.

On a regular basis, whether it’s annually, bi-annually or quadrennially, organizations spend a great deal of time reviewing their strategic and operational plans to set their course for the coming period. Too often, this planning goes on without any detailed review of the people and positions needed to achieve the desired objectives. Existing human resource (HR) structures are assumed to be appropriate and ad hoc changes to job descriptions are sometimes used to fill in any gaps. As a result, opportunities are missed to undertake a comprehensive HR review to ensure that the right people are in the right places at the right time to achieve strategic goals.

HR Reviews

A recent HR review of a national sport organization, conducted by SLSG, revealed that while the overall structure of the organization was generally aligned with their strategic plans, there were some significant gaps when it came to HR administration. Several job classifications were out of line with comparative positions in regards to responsibility, accountability, and job title. In a number of instances, employment contracts were incorrect and in one instance did not even exist for an active senior position. Job descriptions were out of date or non-existent and the HR policy had not been reviewed since 2003. Similarly, volunteers were not required to sign a volunteer agreement outlining their specific roles and responsibilities.

Charities and not for profits regularly face the challenge of balancing human resource requirements with limited financial resources. In many such organizations, there is no dedicated position to manage human resources as there are either limited funds for such a position and/or there is not enough regular work to warrant such a position. Often, this responsibility falls to managers and administrative staff to oversee with the final authority resting with the CEO or Executive Director as just another task on an already long to-do list. The potential for things to get missed is high and can come with a significant cost – both in terms of missed opportunities to achieve goals, as well as liability.


Effectively managing human resources is not only good business practice but there are also legal implications to the organization if it is not done properly. Errors or omissions in contracts and practices can lead to legal challenges that can be very costly. At a minimum, organizations should ensure that their contracts and policies are in line with the employment standards legislation of the province in which the employee works (which may be different from the province in which the organization is located). Each province has its own employment legislation and there are substantive differences between them. All volunteers and Directors should be required to sign agreements outlining their roles, responsibilities and obligations in order to mitigate any potential legal issues for the organization.

We recommend that organizations undertake a comprehensive HR review at least every four years to ensure that contracts and policies are in line with current legislation and HR practices, and that the organizational structure is able to support future plans and objectives. Key things to consider when undertaking an organizational HR review include:

  • Planned outcomes vs job descriptions vs existing skills
  • Job classifications and compensation packages
  • Balancing limited financial resources with the desire to attract and keep skilled people
  • Legal responsibilities and contractual requirements.

Keep in mind that an HR review should include all human resources and not just paid employees. It should include contractors, coaches, officials, Directors, and volunteers.

We can help. With our experience in working with NSOs, PSOs, clubs and other not for profits and charities, we have developed resources, templates and tools that can facilitate the review process. Whether you do it yourself or have assistance, the bottom line is: do it and do it now if it hasn't been done recently. The potential for a ticking time bomb to be lurking in your HR management systems is enough to lose sleep over as legal costs to the organization can be significant.

Feel free to contact Kathy for further information (

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