Give HR a Little More Credit!

June 11, 2008 - 08:33

All too often, the “H” in HR department stands for “hidden” rather than “human.” What was once little more than a vehicle to meet state and federal employment regulations can now be — if designed and staffed correctly — essential in developing a competitive advantage. Imagine an organization where the human-resources department has great talent and technology and advises the top management on business strategy and organizational effectiveness. It has a say in major decisions and is a career stop for anyone who aspires to be part of senior management.

In any labor-intensive business, the workforce should be considered a major asset. While most companies say they value human asset, few are actually run that way. Sure, most organizations have systems in place for hiring qualified, talented people; few have structures that are designed to develop, motivate and retain the best ones. The human-resources department, the group that should have the expertise to help the organization better manage and utilize people, is usually too mired in administrative tasks to tackle higher-value work.

In an organization designed to leverage this major asset, the HR staff would spend less time processing benefit requests and more time being the expert resource on the company’s workforce and its ability to perform. This is usually very difficult because many of the administrative tasks assigned to this department involve a lot labor-intensive clerical detail. Many web-based applications that lend themselves to self-service have recently become more prevalent, and the HR department could use this freed time to develop ways to get the most out of an organization’s talent. Here are three areas where HR professionals can play a key role.

Improving leadership. The HR department can help managers at all levels become better leaders by teaching them how to improve communication skills, set expectations for their staff and motivate people. Many managers are uncomfortable with the employee evaluation process. HR can play a key role in how to give feedback and explain goals and rewards. Others may need help in becoming more approachable and open to feedback to be viewed as good leaders.

Informing the board. Another important role for HR is to become the board’s expert resource on the condition and utilization of the workforce. Board members can use this information to evaluate management, design succession planning, assess organizational effectiveness and make strategic decisions. Although HR managers rarely sit on the board or even attend board meetings, companies focused on human capital should find ways to regularly access their knowledge of their HR personnel.

Assessing the workforce. A third potential role for HR is to spearhead efforts to develop a human- capital information system to measure areas such as the skills and competency of the workforce, its performance in critical areas and its cost to the organization. HR professionals should be best positioned to determine what things need to be measured, to what degree individuals are motivated to perform their jobs and who in the company needs this data.

One thing’s for sure: In any organization where the workforce’s talent can be its competitive advantage, the HR department must be a leader—and not the stepchild it usually is.

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