The way Dan Oakland sees it, human resource development and management is something every company deals with, but not everyone has the time or money necessary to invest in. 

Oakland is the founder of Alternative HRD, a firm that provides outsourced HR solutions for businesses and nonprofits, with a special focus on small businesses. 

“I would say we’ve built our primary niche in becoming the HR department for smaller companies,” Oakland said. “It helps them compete for people, and it helps them make sure they’re complying with things that, in some cases, they might not even know they need to comply with.”

Large companies will often have a full-time employee or even an entire department devoted to HR, but for smaller businesses or nonprofits with limited resources, that’s not always feasible. Alternative HRD provides options for those organizations to get the job done efficiently. 

“Our sweet spot is really those businesses that have a dozen or more people, but aren’t big enough to justify a full-time HR professional,” Oakland said. “We handle recruiting, performance, benefits, all of that stuff—about 75 percent of our work is with companies in that area. Then we’ll do some work with larger companies who need to outsource projects, or we’ll work with smaller startups who need a little help and guidance.”

Providing individualized solutions for HR needs

Alternative HRD offers three different ways to structure a client relationship: retainers, projects, and subscriptions.

For companies seeking an alternative to an internal HR department, setting up a retainer for HR Management Services is the most effective option. In this arrangement, the consultants at Alternative HRD are able to get as involved as necessary—spending time onsite and getting to know the company, its management and its employees. They will then work with the company to provide regular assistance in whatever capacity it’s needed.

Sometimes, businesses prefer to work with consultants on single issues or projects. 

“In any business, there are probably a handful of times per year where they face some sort of major headache, frustration, an open position, or maybe a difficult employee they don’t know how to address or a conflict between employees they need help resolving,” Oakland said. 

Whether it’s dealing with a unique conflict, updating a handbook, or assisting with hiring for a specific opening, Alternative HRD can step in and provide solutions on a project-by-project basis. 

While this can be a helpful service for companies with smaller teams and thus, fewer personnel issues, Oakland urges companies to be realistic about their needs and seek help before things get out of hand. 

“A lot of times when we get a call, it’s because something hit the fan, and they need help figuring out what to do,” he said. “They start to recognize that there’s a lot of stuff you have to deal with when it comes to the people side of business.”

Finally, Alternative HRD offers a subscription service, HR On-Demand, which was developed this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For a monthly fee, companies receive a newsletter, management tips, sample policies, support, and up to one hour of phone or email consultation each month. 

“It’s a newer way of operating for us, but we’ve been pleased so far, and we’re starting to get a lot of calls for it,” Oakland said. “It’s a good example of how sometimes things come up and create new opportunities.”

Regardless of the structure a business chooses, Alternative HRD’s team of consultants works side by side with management and employees to solve problems, improve communication, and maintain compliance.

Services include everything from risk assessment, to hiring and recruiting, training and developing employees, strategic planning, compensation and benefits analysis, and even COVID-19-specific resources. 

Adapting alongside their clients

Oakland started his business back in 1992 as a sole proprietor. He broke into the world of HR with 15 years of experience in the restaurant industry, where he says he always gravitated toward the people side of business, such as hiring and training staff.

Dan Oakland, Founder, Alternative HRD

“I got started back in the mid-70s, which was soon after a lot of changes in civil rights legislation and employment law,” Oakland said. “I had to learn about HR by default.” 

From those days in the restaurant business to the beginnings of Alternative HRD, Oakland has witnessed and adapted to a slough of changes in the world of HR, including the arrival of the internet.  

“When the internet came along, a lot of the knowledge and resources regarding legislation became easier to access, which was a major change,” he said. “It made research and staying up-to-date on legislation much more manageable.”

As recently as this year, issues like race relations and the COVID-19 pandemic have caused shifts as well. 

“Diversity and inclusion have become hotter topics, and especially this year with the pandemic, we’ve seen changes in how we’re doing business. We’re doing more things remotely which I was resistant to in the past,” Oakland said.

The business is growing, too. 

Until about ten years ago, Oakland operated the business on his own, but now he’s experiencing steady growth. He currently has a staff of 12, including an intern, and says the company has consistently been hiring at least one person every year for the last decade.

The Alternative HRD team, as of March 2020.

Three years ago, Oakland and his team moved from their office on Minnesota Avenue to Zeal’s facility.

“We’re probably a little unusual for a Zeal tenant because we didn’t come out here as a startup,” he said. “We’re a little bigger now, but we’re still dealing with the growing pains of business. Growth can be fun and challenging, and the environment and atmosphere here is enjoyable and invigorating. You see other businesses that are trying to grow, and you can encourage each other.”

Oakland says being in Zeal’s facility has also been beneficial when it comes to amenities like conference and meeting rooms. Alternative HRD is able to use those spaces to host clients, conduct interviews, or hold training sessions. 

To learn more about Alternative HRD and what they can do for your small business or startup, visit