When I started working in 1984, I joined the Personnel department. In those days, Personnel was seen as largely administrative, the ‘police’ of the workplace, and a costly function that the operational and finance departments didn’t particularly like or understand. Personnel, Employee Relations (or even Industrial Relations in those days) and Training were normally seen as three distinctly separate functions that didn’t really have much to do with each other.
So what’s changed? Well, sadly, in some companies nothing.
In more enlightened companies the function has evolved to become a strategic business partnership, operating side by side with the rest of the senior management team, reporting to the CEO.
So what exactly does this mean?
Strategic Human Resources is pro-active as opposed to re-active, identifies opportunities and risks, and understands the whole business. Practitioners work with the Senior Management team and add value to the business.
Let’s look at a couple of examples of how pro-active, strategic HR can benefit your business:
Resourcing strategy – looking at resourcing for the future by understanding the direction the company is moving in, what is core business and non-core business, what to outsource and what to keep in-house. It is about making the sure the staff believe in the vision of the company, about being able to attract the very best employees to work for you. It is about understanding when to recruit and when to downsize, and understanding the implications of doing so
Performance Management – there is a lot of debate about how best to do performance management/appraisals/reviews, whatever you choose to call them. They are often demotivating and overly complex. An HR Business Partner will be able to devise a process that meets the needs of your business, the level of the staffing, and encourage open and positive discussion to ensure that staff maximize productivity. This is about being clear about what is required and what the expectations are, but it should also be about listening to how else things can be done, how you can support your staff to achieve, rather than the big stick approach of threatening disciplinary action. That is not to say that we will always be successful and that we will never have to resort to managing poor performance, but it is about understanding how the management team can get the most out of staff by combining performance management with employee engagement.
These are just two examples, there are so many more. I have spoken about the Employee Lifecycle in previous articles, and to me, an HR practitioner should be able to support a business, irrespective of the size, industry or nature of the business at every step of this journey. We spend huge amount of time, effort and money on recruitment, at yet, employers often fail to spend the time making sure they are recruiting the right people in the right jobs.
Sometimes, they fail to support employees through those crucial first few months of employment by making sure that they understand what is expected and offering support to overcome any obstacle. But most critically many employers fail to take advantage of the asset that is their employees, by not listening or engaging with them to hear what ideas they have that can help to improve the business – don’t underestimate the skills and knowledge that people have built up over the years and how beneficial good employee engagement can be to your business.
As a senior HR professional, a consultant and lecturer in the CIPD qualification, I take great pride in my profession and it is with great disappointment that I listen to stories of how HR has let people down. If your HR professional isn’t a pro-active, solutions focused practitioner, then perhaps it is time for a change.
Area Director: Midlands
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