HR – a necessary evil or a business savvy requirement?

I used to work for a chap in the ‘corporate world’ who referred to me as ‘human remains’ rather than human resources or HR. He thought it hilarious but it sadly demonstrated just what he thought of my profession. I was the lowest of the low, there to police policies and do paperwork. I was the hit man firing staff and delivering the sad, bad messages of redundancy and the one that he could disregard with glee in those two words.

I thought he was a dying breed and so was able to marginalise his reaction, but I now stumble across many more like him as I go about my daily consultancy work. There are those that perceive HR as a waste of time and money, and a frustrating evil to be called upon only in extreme cases – a bit like ‘Break Glass in case of emergency’.

This got me thinking – I needed to give my clients and future clients an easy list of why it’s a business savvy company that engages an HR service provider – be that in house or as an external resource. What do we as HR do for them? How can we make their business a better business? We spend so much time and energy engaging our suppliers of raw materials, of choosing our most economical utilities partners and in buying our best cost stationery provider but grimace when the very words human resources are uttered.

The BBC has a bitesize business management article about HR and describes us as having five main roles (I could argue for a sixth – counsellor!)
• Executive role – specialists in the areas that encompass human resources or people management.
• Audit role –checking other departments and the organisation as a whole to ensure all HR policies such as health & safety, training, staff appraisal.
• Facilitator role – to help or facilitate other departments to achieve the goals or standards as laid out in the HR policies of the organisation.
• Consultancy role – advising managers on how to tackle specific managing people issues professionally.
• Service role – an information provider.

And yes what we do does encompass a bit of all of this but as Bob Brady, the founder of Business & Legal Reports, says: “HR is a creature of, and serves the business strategy. Never think of HR in isolation because if human resources professionals think of themselves as ‘just HR,’ that’s what the rest of the organisation will think too.”

So here’s my version of eight key characters HR professionals take on in a business savvy company. It demonstrates their significance and helps to stop people fearing or resenting them or marginalising them as a ‘necessary evil’.

1. Budget Controllers – We ensure the company has the right number of people, in the right places with the right skills and the right attitudes.

2. Continuous Improvement Activists – we are there to help managers to coach, develop and support their staff. This is about ensuring appraisals and reviews happen and are intrinsic to the organisational processes as well as managing performance, or sourcing and undertaking training as required.

3. Employee Relations Monitors – dealing with the everyday employee issues, concerns and conflict, as well as being a barometer of staff satisfaction and engagement (and maybe here is where the counseling skills come in at times!)

4. Business Sustainers – driving succession planning and ensuring talent is identified and retained, or plans are in place to replace where losses are required.

5. Ethics and Discretion Consciences – fundamental in determining the sense of right and wrong in a company and guiding staff and managers alike through that. The keepers of confidential information and providers of such information in the appropriate times, in the appropriate ways.

6. Strategic Orienteers – taking on a leadership role in influencing senior management in their strategic path for staff numbers, the compensation package and terms and conditions, the skills requirements and the links between the people and the company’s product, be that a physical or service product.

7. Policy Holders – constantly reviewing existing policies, while putting appropriate new ones in place to ensure legal compliance and the smooth running of processes so both the company and the employees’ interests are safe guarded.

8. Paper Chasers – yes I know but hey we do have to do this. We check eligibility to work in the UK, we source the Disclosure and Barring Checks, we send the offer letters, the discipline letters, the absence monitoring letters and 100s of others besides – I guess that is where we ARE the necessary evil.

But I hope I have opened your eyes a little wider to the true value of what we do and you won’t dismiss us so readily next time. The service you get depends on the type of person you get. Employ or engage a paper pusher, or a do gooder, or even a compliance checker and that’s all you will get. Instead aim for a commercially focused and business minded practical HR specialist and you should see a difference in the service you receive and the benefit to the business.

So are you savvy enough now?

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