Guest Blogger

By David Millner

There has been a significant amount of change in HR functions across the globe.  Changing the behaviour and approach of the HR practitioner has been a critical part of that process albeit that there is still much work to be done.  The pandemic has shown HR at its’ best in terms of crisis management, dealing with resourcing and operational puzzles.

The next 12 months will be a critical time for HR and provides an opportunity to shine if we adopt a different approach to how we operate.  HR still seems to be one of the overhead functions that always seems to be downsized when times get tough either through a reduction in its’ budgets or by reducing its’ own headcount (if just to increase the employee to HR ratio – as I have said in the past the most meaningless metric ever devised!).  Other elements of HR are being streamlined with technology but with the post pandemic world changing at an increasingly faster rate HR must respond to these changes with more than its traditional “do more with less” approach.  It needs to revamp everything it does.

It needs to improve the impact and credibility of the HR function if it is to be seen as a corporate leader and a function that can influence the top management regarding the importance of the ‘people agenda’ which the pandemic has shown is a crucial backbone for all organisations.  The key is whether the benefits are being seen to make a difference in the organisation’s eyes and that of the top team!  HR can’t use an old map to find a new route; here are some thoughts about further changes that could make the journey for HR faster and more transformational.  It will need some courage though!

Proactive and Responsive:  There is still a strong reactive aspect being seen.  Instead of developing solutions in response to a demonstrated need, it is crucial that to meet the future needs of the business and to lead organisational change, HR must not wait to react to others lead but instigate research, innovation teams and scenario-based plans that place HR on the ‘front foot’.  Where HR functions have adopted this approach, the impact on their perceived credibility has been significantly different.

Measuring Value:  All head office and corporate support functions will continue to come under ever increasing pressure as we move into 2022 to demonstrate their value and HR functions must respond by becoming more financially orientated and accountable.  By aiming to become more metrics and analytics orientated every HR initiative or solution needs to be assessed on a “zero cost” basis, which assumes you add no value unless you can prove otherwise.  The clamour for data, metrics and analytics is not about measuring everything that HR does but to focus precious resources on those solutions that produce a higher return.  For example, why aren’t all administrative based processes reviewed to ascertain their suitability for automation.  Yes, that will need a business case, but it can release people to work on ‘added value’ talent processes (e.g. scenario planning , design thinking based employee research, job design etc.) rather than legacy based administrative methods that are of little strategic value.

Adding Value’:  The real challenge for HR has always been the ability to truly demonstrate ‘added value’ and a real tangible competitive advantage for an organisation.  Measurement is critical, but it’s about measuring those key elements that are seen to “add critical value and return” to the organisation.  This may mean at one level Return on Investment (ROI) though to assessing and creating Predictive Analytics that truly show the business impact that HR can make based upon existing data and insights that are available.  Some organisations are exploring Talent Scorecard’s that focus upon the value for money that organisations derive from its’ people (i.e.: an employee’s collective capability and the costs associated with that individual – an eye opener indeed!).

Effective People Practices:  HR has considerable thought leadership expertise and needs to educate managers more on which tools and approaches:

  • Will ensure that top performers are retained.
  • Improve their ability to motivate, develop and challenge their staff.
  • Provide the most predictive recruitment methods that identify top performers.
  • Identify the most effective development interventions and why.
  • Identify the benefits packages that increase the performance of the best people.
  • Prove which people management tools have the most impact on performance.

This all needs to be underpinned by clarity about who truly owns the people agenda and the respective roles that local management and HR must play in that.  This will be especially relevant as hybrid working becomes more of a feature moving forward.

Leadership Focus:  HR must allow managers to make and own their ‘informed’ people decisions with HR, shifting from the process implementer role (which still exists in some corporates) to that of a facilitator or internal trusted adviser, who will provide clear thought leadership on effective people practices. This is not just about changing the name of the HR role to that of Business Partner (wouldn’t HR Leader be a better term anyway?), it is about changing the way that HR operates and behaves driven by a far more commercial mind-set.

HR Capability: It is hard (and unfair) to make generalisations, but a lot of HR professionals are strong in relationship building but sometimes lack the commercial nous that is critical to build that important credibility with clients.  The “new” HR professional needs to develop their capability in business and finance, have a solid technology appreciation as well as being someone who can balance the risks that are sometimes required to resolve certain business challenges.  Above all HR practitioners must have an informed view about the business world that they are operating in.  Let’s remember, everyone appears to be an HR or people expert until it gets difficult or challenging so why shouldn’t we have a view about marketing, operations etc.  It also importantly shows and builds our credibility.

As a professional discipline HR is on the right path.  Some significant changes have already been made but there are yet more challenges facing HR.   It is so important that the progress made thus far is truly built upon so that HR becomes the commercial partner that it aspires to be.  To do that yet more radical change is required but above all we must keep going – we have many years of fixed perceptions about us as a function that need to be broken down and behavioural change and more tangible HR led business outcomes are the fundamental levers for that change!  It will require some courage though as these aren’t easy changes to make.

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