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The role of HR in today’s business world
Long has there been a debate about the role of HR and what it should or shouldn’t include. Who HR represents – employees or employers, and even what it should be called – personnel, human resources, human capital management (just awful!), and people manager to name a few.
Should it be a disciplinarian role, or a means of creating fear and maintaining control – “you leave me no alternative but to get HR involved”. Or should it be the enforcer of rules and policies with or without some flexibility? Should it be a support and mediatory role or a training and guidance role? Or should line managers just call on HR to do their management role? Is it strategic, operational or both and should or shouldn’t HR have a seat at the boardroom table? The challenge is that HR is an extremely broad role. It will depend very much on the size, structure and culture of the business it sits within.
A seat in the boardroom
My view has always been ‘Yes’. We absolutely should have a seat at the boardroom table. This is because of the ways a business strategy and a people strategy intertwine and impact the bottom line. It’s not just because we have earned our place to be there. But because of the simple fact that happy, valued and supported employees work harder for your business. They will help you do whatever your business does and subsequently grow it.
One of the main reasons I became a consultant working with many different businesses is because I love seeing the value I can add by working with management teams and business leaders. Helping them align their people and business strategies and get both working towards the same goals and objectives. For me personally, working mostly with small and micro businesses feeds that purpose. I enjoy the more commercial focus working with small businesses brings. It is extremely rewarding to have the trust and confidence business owners and management teams place in me to have their back on all things HR.
The pandemic was a game-changer for the role of HR
The pandemic, I believe, was a game-changer for the HR profession. Both in-house and outsourced HR professionals stepped up to the plate and worked tirelessly to help business leaders navigate covid. In many cases ensuring business survival by mastering the furlough rules and pitfalls, guiding and supporting through tough decisions and processes. Also, supporting new ways of working and wellbeing initiatives. However, it has come at a price, many of my HR colleagues are exhausted and finally now looking to take time off to get some well-earned R&R. With the value of HR reaffirmed, now we must hold on to that seat and kudos.
So, what is the role of HR?
That is a big question. How transactional or operational the role is for some of you will depend on where you are in your career and the size and structure of the business you work in. But there are, I believe, five key parts to any HR role:
1) Scanning the horizon
Legislation, rules, codes, statutory provisions, procedures, the economy, the trading environment and best practice guidance all change over time. We need to keep ourselves up to date and current with key trends and influences. This is so we can advise management teams and employees in an informed, proactive and strategic way.
2) Committing to continued learning and professional development
Not only is it a requirement of CIPD and HRi accredited membership, but it is also necessary to grow in the HR role. Even with my 20 years’ experience, every day is a learning day for me. I still come across things I didn’t know, or that have changed since the last time I dealt with it. I still get surprised by the actions employees and employers take. Some situations will be a once in a career experience for example. I investigated an employee who stole £145,000 over three years of employment. It involved a mammoth investigation, hundreds of appendices and a full handover to the police. This resulted in a court hearing and a custodial sentence. We also got the money back by the way.
3) Providing guidance and support
As a consultant advising businesses, my role is to help businesses make informed decisions based on expert knowledge, opinion and best practice to keep them safe and legally compliant. An in-house role can often be seen as being a conduit between management teams and their people. Moving information up and down and mediating between the two. We need to inform, guide, support, educate and train leadership and management teams within the business. This equips, enables and empowers them to become great managers that manage their teams well.
We can inform employees of policies, processes and procedures. Help them navigate through their employment, and we can provide guidance, support and assistance when needed. But we shouldn’t be a go-between. We shouldn’t be stepping in to do the difficult line management tasks that line managers don’t want to do. Instead, we should be upskilling them to do it. If a manager or management team has an important and perhaps difficult message to deliver to the individual or team, they need to own that and be accountable. They should not send in HR and hide behind us.
4) Promoting a culture of collaboration and inclusivity.
We might all have slightly different objectives and deliverables that fall out of the one Business and HR strategy. But ultimately all employees and teams should be working towards the business vision, mission and purpose and buying into the organisational values. Collaboration, innovation and employee development are important. It’s also perhaps an area where the pandemic and the subsequent hybrid working approach have faltered slightly and become an opportunity lost in the remote working model.
Whilst recruiting remotely has opened many organisations up to a bigger candidate pool, onboarding has for many organisations been difficult. So much is learnt about ways of working and culture through direct interaction with colleagues and peers. A contact of mine described starting as a project manager with an organisation that was working remotely which had a camera off policy for all online meetings. As a leader of a team, she found it incredibly difficult to settle in and integrate into the team, the culture, build relationships, and even know what someone looks like. I hasten to add she will be leaving soon, and that organisation will face the cost of re-recruiting and losing a key team member that they have invested some time and energy into.
There will of course be times when things don’t go according to plan from an organisational or employee perspective. It may need HR’s involvement to facilitate a resolution or instigate relevant processes. We are, after all, all human, as the title suggests, and life and emotions get in the way. A successful HR practitioner should approach such situations with an open mind and be non-judgemental, consistent, fair, curious and empathetic. Even in the most difficult of situations dignity and respect goes a long way. Sometimes an immediate resolution will be out of our reach and a dreaded tribunal claim may come. But if due process has been followed and an organisation has behaved reasonably and fairly in the circumstances, then a settlement could be reached. Poor HR practices, lack of expertise or knowledge, and unreasonable or unfair actions or behaviours may result in successful claims.
I have recently seen articles referring to HR being about good employee experience, but I think it is about fostering a positive employee and employer experience. Something we as HR practitioners can influence.
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Author: Charlotte Allfrey, Director | HRi