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This week's chat

April 12, 2016 Make HR Visible

Tony Glass, VP and general manager, UK & EMEA, Skillsoft

Traditionally, the top table is reserved for those who seem to make the largest contributions to the bottom line – something which HR has always had difficulty proving quantitatively. Though the situation is changing – Forbes last year argued that the chief human resources officer should sit at the top table – a more alarming trend has appeared, an indication that this lack of presence is also felt throughout the wider organisation.

HR is facing several difficult challenges, one of which is that workers have different attitudes and expectations. This might not sound important, but it has a considerable effect on talent management and staff retention. Many employees are looking beyond the traditional rewards and opportunities, which often lead to staff moving on after only a short period. Staff engagement is also an issue, with the UK ranked 18th out of the top 20 developed countries and employees indicating a lack of appreciation and encouragement to be innovative.

The mysterious world of HR

These issues aside, arguably the biggest obstacle facing HR is a distinct lack of internal communications as highlighted by YouGov’s latest survey for the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD). According to participants’ responses, opinion is divided as to what the HR function is actually responsible for, with a large proportion of respondents citing recruitment, compliance, grievances and disciplinaries as perceived core duties. The lesser-associated roles included training, retention, career progression, internal communications and organisational strategy. While some could be forgiven, many of the functions are integral features of a fully functioning HR department. It’s not only necessary that they are completed, but also that they are seen to be completed within the organisation.

When asked who was responsible for HR-related work within their organisations, the most popular response was a resounding ‘don’t know’. This may not be an immediate problem, as depending upon the size of an organisation the HR function will be divided up differently among members of the department. However, the fact that a quarter of employees can’t identify HR personnel within their company is disturbing. It indicates that HR is not doing enough to promote itself – confirmed by the admission of half of the participants, who believed HR had no noticeable effect upon the performance and wellbeing of the organisation.

Re-establishing visibility

To turn the tide, HR needs to demonstrate that its role stretches further than simply transactional responsibilities. Any HR professional will attest to the importance of the department in reinforcing the strategic elements of the business, such as internal communications, recruitment and talent management and even the overall business strategy.

A big part of this will involve re-evaluating the shared services model, long responsible for removing integrated and highly visible services and placing them in an isolated department.
Another significant contribution will come from the re-integration of HR professionals into the senior leadership team – rather than holding independent consultations around implementing business strategy, working policy and training and development.

However, for the workforce in general, the key to greater visibility lies with improving the delivery and accessibility of professional development pathways for employees at all levels. Recent surveys have shown that employee engagement increasingly depends upon development opportunities and the establishment of a positive work environment, and HR now has a wealth of tools to help meet those expectations. Where the department has previously felt the strain of sourcing and managing talent, technology now allows HR professionals to actually concentrate on assisting employees to get to where they want to go.

It’s certainly going to be a tough ride as the immediate pressures facing HR directors are unlikely to disappear while the necessary changes are made. But once HR has again established a firm foothold in business, it can begin to address the virtual and sometimes physical invisibility of the department which has fuelled negative perceptions and barriers to communication within organisations worldwide. In order to improve business performance and employee motivation, HR has to once again become an integral and widely recognised function that frequently demonstrates its contribution, not only to the business, but to each and every employee.

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