Who Are Fractional HR Leaders? And How Can You Become One?

A quick LinkedIn search results in over 100k people with the title “Fractional HR Leader” in their profile. But who are fractional HR leaders, what’s their professional background, and how did they land in these roles?
6 min read | by Heather Spain
Rocks with a Question mark.

The last few years have shown a rise in fractional leadership. In short, fractional leadership entails an organization hiring an experienced professional on a part-time, contract basis to help with organizational leadership responsibilities. For more, check out this blog post.  

A quick LinkedIn search results in over 100k people with the title “Fractional HR Leader” in their profile. But who are fractional HR leaders, what’s their professional background, and how did they land in these roles?

We’ll address these questions by exploring the career experience and skills of fractional HR leaders. And we’ll also offer some guidance for HR professionals who are interested in following that path.

Some Factors Driving this Trend

On a larger scale, we’ve seen a significant increase in people engaging in independent work. A recent McKinsey survey — the American Opportunity Survey (AOS) — showed 36% of employed respondents identified as independent workers. That’s up from 27% when McKinsey last ran the survey in 2016. Fractional HR leadership represents a part of this trend.

There are many reasons why people choose to pursue fractional HR leadership. Some people want more flexibility in their lives, due to caregiving responsibilities or to dedicate time to other interests or hobbies. Others want to work with more than one client or in a variety of industries since many people take on more than one fractional leadership role at a time. Also, since fractional leadership roles are usually remote, that gives people more geographic freedom — they can live or work from anywhere. And companies get greater access to experienced talent.

Small businesses and start-ups, in particular, benefit from hiring fractional HR leaders. They are often navigating significant growth or change. While it may not be financially feasible or the right time to hire a full-time HR leader, having a fractional leader whose specialized skills can help the organization at that moment can be very meaningful.

In a time of economic uncertainty and with the heavy increase in layoffs in many sectors, many professionals no longer feel job security as employees and choose to forge their own path working for themselves. In this way, fractional leadership can offer a good solution for both businesses and fractional leaders. 

So, who exactly are Fractional HR Leaders?

First and foremost, fractional HR leaders bring deep leadership experience. Though their years in the field may vary, they’ve served as decision-makers, led teams, and implemented people initiatives and programs. They often have areas of specialization within HR — compensation, talent acquisition, benefits administration, or employee engagement, for example. It’s common for these professionals also to have experience working in start-ups or fast-growing organizations. And with all those years of leadership experience, they’ve built strong networks that can often help them find clients.

Many professionals come to HR from other fields and professions, so although a few people have academic degrees in HR, most have degrees in other disciplines. In fact, fewer than 1 in 10 HR leaders have an HR-specific degree! It is common for fractional HR leaders to have certifications related to HR, learning and development, coaching, and/or change or project management.

Fractional HR leaders need to have an entrepreneurial mindset. Since they have to find their own clients, there’s definitely an element of sales involved in these roles. They also need to manage all the aspects of essentially running their own business, from marketing to pricing their services to negotiating contracts to invoicing. In addition, fractional HR leaders bring strong consulting, communication and project management skills. Their roles require them to toggle between strategic and task-oriented work, collaborate effectively with multiple teams, clients, and leaders, and manage multiple work streams.

As a result of this blend of experience and skills, fractional HR leaders both possess a strategic and get Sh$t done type of mindset.

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Tips for Becoming a Fractional HR Leader

Are you interested in pursuing a path to fractional HR leadership? Below are some suggested tips to get started:

Play to your strengths.

First off, get a clear understanding of your own strengths, experience, and what you can provide to clients. In other words, what’s your niche? What value do you uniquely offer? What problems can you help businesses solve? Reflect on your past professional accomplishments and look for the common threads that may point to your strengths and areas of expertise. If you feel stuck here, reach out to trusted former colleagues to remind you of your superpower(s).

Join fractional HR communities. 

Learn from and connect with professionals who are already on this path. Be a sponge! And since the best networks and communities are mutually beneficial, look for ways you can provide value to others.

Think through your engagement model. 

How will you charge for your services? How many hours or days per week will you be available for clients? What operational processes do you need to put in place to launch your fractional HR business? These are great questions to ask your fractional HR communities. There’s also some good advice in this article.

Start building your brand. 

Use professional networks like LinkedIn and/or a personal website to convey your experience, the value you provide, and your offerings. Consider including a portfolio of past work. Then, launch and iterate as you go. Use feedback you get from colleagues, clients, and prospective clients to refine this work. And for fellow perfectionists out there, it doesn’t have to be perfect to launch it – just good enough to get you going. Embrace the MVP!

Reach out to your network! 

Share what you’re offering and market yourself to your network. It may feel uncomfortable to put yourself out there, but this is likely where you’ll land your first client. 

Ensure you’re on the same page with potential clients.

In initial conversations with a potential client, make sure you’re a good fit for one another. In other words, ensure you’re both clear on expectations and aligned on what success looks like in this role.

As interest in fractional HR leadership continues — both from businesses and experienced HR professionals — we look forward to watching this role grow and develop. Reach out to us at Blend Me, Inc. to help with your interim HR needs and people projects.


Originally Published by Heather Spain on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 | Updated on Thursday, May 2, 2024
Fractional HR Leadership
, Professional Development
, Career
, Human Resources Today
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