The Human Resources discipline has been around since the late 1890s, and yet to this day, it still wields low repute in companies. Many HR executives will tell tales of challenges and incessant eye-rolling when discussing HR issues with line managers and C-Suite execs. Human Resources is seen as not getting the business, always meddling, creating lots of admin work, generating cost with little benefit and just generally getting in the way of making money.
The function is not taken anywhere as seriously as Finance, Operations, Sales, or even Marketing — yet in so many ways the strategic goals of the company can rarely be met without an effective HR function. Over the many years of producing, servicing and consulting for HR with organisations, I have observed how businesses with the most effective HR systems interface internally. And the following five major truths must be learnt if an effective Human Resources function is to be realised.
HR is Science
This is a good starting point to recognise.
HR practitioners should be as discerning as medical specialists when it comes to choosing an intervention. Countless journals are replete with rich articles invested in understanding the human behaviours that drive organisations. Too often, I see HR pottering around here and there without the proven knowledge that something works.
I was intrigued to see an article in the Harvard Business Review of December 2013 about how Google sold its engineers on management, and how this data centric organisation spent millions to understand the best qualities of their most effective managers.
The list which followed — things like “Is a good coach”, “Is a good listener”, “empowers the team” and “expresses interest and concern for team members” seemed so old hat and obvious that I wondered why the HR person had not just done a basic literature search to find that information. I love that Google re-invented the research, and true: Google’s HR people re-did the science and research that existed — but the answers had been sitting there all along.
HR is there to sell more widgets
Most companies with more than 30 people have an HR department.
These companies are as diverse as the products and services they sell, and their raison d’etre is mostly to remain commercially viable and to prosper. If the company is selling insurance then the impact of HR interventions is indirectly to sell more insurance. This is the case whether it is cars, beer, consulting or apple juice being sold. This means that HR needs to know the business they are in, and can never confuse their purpose for existing.
HR can sometimes appear as if they are on some holy mission from heaven rather than being there to help expand the business.
Just like the people working in the warehouse, driving the trucks or working the tills, HR can better show their value to the business by demonstrating their knowledge of the industry. Just like other operational specialists in IT, Finance and supply chain, HR cannot only be specialists at HR.
They must know the business they are a part of very well.
HR should be slick
HR processes seem to create lots of paperwork, associating the discipline with administration.
From long-winded exit interviews to performance management processes that require multiple forms (and occasionally spreadsheet applications), there is generally a lot of paperwork. No one argues against the idea of effective record keeping, but HR needs some push button technology that delivers high-quality results with minimal paperwork.
There are good examples of this technology available (for example, automated exit interviews that aggregate organisational trends, or high value embedded 360 surveys that can be run on demand) but they are rarely used. HR can also create user-friendly content such as infographics to demonstrate human capital developments inside the organisation.
Talent Management at the centre
One could argue that Talent Management is the HR planet around which all other interventions orbit.
HR needs to ensure that the best talent is brought on board, that it stays there, and that it is given the opportunity to flourish. Of course, there are 1000 variables in making all that happen.
There are many schools of thought in this area and divided opinions are common currency. I would suggest that at the pace that businesses are currently required to change, the days of rigidly fitting an individual into a prescribed set of competencies are shifting. These days, talent is about resourcefulness and flexibility.
As the demands on staff members change, and as systems and processes flex around emerging client and customer needs, so the qualities of reasoning, judgement and action have to be equally nimble. Show me a business that is the same now as it was five years ago — and I’ll show you a business in decline.
Businesses have to continually reinvent themselves if they are going to stay relevant. HR needs to be at the forefront of populating the organisation with the kind of talent that will help it grow. To do this, it needs to keep its finger on the pulse of edgy generation X, Y and Z staff sentiment in ensuring an environment that eschews routine and drives innovation.
To this end, jobs can easily become stale and HR should help ensure that regardless of qualification and old limiting criteria, that talent is free to move outside of conventional career boundaries, bringing fresh insights into established areas.
HR must measure, and listen
Diagnostic information is key to many of the ideas suggested.
HR needs to use proper metrics to govern its spend. Diagnostics can be sought to cover areas such as the levels of engagement inside an organisation (climate survey), psychometrics to filter out those with preferred abilities, trend information on why people exit (automated exit surveys), determining the merits of promoting someone into a new role (psychometrics and 360°), addressing talent retention through an effective onboarding experience (automated onboarding surveys), or promoting delivery and holding people accountable for effective and non-biased performance management (ideally, with continual real-time development dashboards rather than agonising meetings held once a year to review performance).
These are but some of the many interventions which help create tangible and relevant metrics to guide required actions.
This is HR’s way of listening to the business. Not through the gossip-saturated channels of ad-hoc staff ranting. Not through the anecdotal whisperings of powerful managers, but through a rational process of data driven measurement.
All of the above can be done and be done well. Effective organisations are doing much of it already. It will be very costly to be left behind.