Quite some time ago, I got so tired of hearing HR referred to as a ‘necessary evil’ that I refused to identify myself or my department as HR. I banned the term and rebranded us as OD (Organizational Development). I believe passionately that the team responsible for Talent Development is a strategic partner at the highest level of the organization with one of the toughest jobs. Besides being knowledgeable on all current/applicable state and federal laws, one must also be a skilled communicator in order to convey to management and shareholders the benefits and risks of compliance and non-compliance. This necessarily requires training and persuasion and the ability to communicate beyond just a perfunctory “because I told you so”.
So many people get into HR because they ‘like people’ and are then disillusioned because of the preponderance of paperwork and the requirement to deal with unpleasant situations (like dress code, or hygiene…ugh). Sadly, many HR professionals are taught case law and statutes but are not operationally educated enough to make good business cases for their ideas. They know that employee culture is critical but can’t ‘sell’ it to the owners or stakeholders effectively. This is absolutely changing and SPHR or SHRM-SCP designees must demonstrate proficiency in business strategy to obtain their certification. But as both HR professionals and those who interface with them can tell you from experience, the emergencies and demands of the normal workday have a tendency to derail best laid plans and the HR team can become embittered enforcers; finding their value in creating a bureaucracy.
What’s the cure? Having created highly successful support teams for years, I’m convinced that there are things an HR leader must insist on in order for their team to be accepted as a strategic partner and to achieve credibility throughout the company.
• Create a customer service department. Even if this must be repeated weekly, drill into every member of the team that they are there to support the company, not vice versa.
• Train the team on operational concepts. This helps with the previous point. It also engenders respect for the team’s internal customers. I’ve found there can be an unconscious arrogance from people who have been educated in management and leadership concepts when they encounter those managers who may be rough around the edges. Education in the core business can eliminate that and help find common ground.
• Train the team on finance. It’s vital for the HR team to understand the fiscal aspect of the organization for many reasons. When communicating policy or changes, it helps the team’s perspective to know the context of organizational performance. It also helps the team help you (as a leader) prepare cost benefit analysis for the ideas they wish to implement. It’s easy for an HR person to recommend a learning management system to track training, but you’ll get a much more thought out proposal when they have to justify the cost and/or prioritize this spend with other team suggestions.
• Get involved with talent management beyond ‘morale’. Yes, HR is often the corporate event coordinators, but to be a true strategic partner and to bring great value to the organization, it is important to become and expert on the organizational short and long term goals and what the human resource requirements are to achieve them. This includes head count, training needs, succession plans and leadership development.
• Understand the business. Every position I have ever taken has been in an industry that was new to me, because HR is transferrable. That does not mean you don’t need to learn it. Knowing how the industry functions makes you more effective at recruiting, leading the culture and will build credibility with your cross functional peers.
• Build a department mission and vision, reinforcing the above
There’s more, but these are the essentials as I see them, and what have helped make me successful. If you are not experiencing these things from your HR department, consider implementing some. If you don’t know how…get ready for it…consider an outside source, coach or consultant to assist you. (I know a great resource, as a matter of fact).