[Text amended August 2018]
Talking to a group of hr managers recently revealed that many were concerned that they would lose credibility if they could not answer an employment law issue raised by a senior manager. That may explain why employment law events attract the highest attendance among hr professionals. It also became clear that many of those hr managers:
- Did not really understand the principles behind the legislation and case law;
- Were more concerned to apply a fixed procedure rather than look at what would be an appropriate solution for the organisation and the individual.
HR needs to stop sitting on the fence and to add value to the senior management team by:
- taking risks when appropriate to resolve hr management issues;
- focus on the needs of the organisation and not the convenience to hr;
- implement strategies and practices that recognise the context and capabilities of the organisation and will take the organisation forward;
- develop reward and recognition practices which foster innovation and continuous improvement – recognise that failure may occur but use that positively;
- develop a commercially focused and customer focused approach to policies and addressing issues;
- challenge the relevance of practices that are ingrained but do not enhance the adaptability of the organisation and employee engagement.
The above applies to both commercial and service focused organisations e.g. schools. The latter are competing for students/children to maintain and increase income at the same time as delivering tangible benefits to students and their parents/guardians. Schools need to understand the benefits of marketing to help them sustain their position. As with other service organisations, a commercial and service focus is needed to promote the success of many organisations
If the above seems critical, that is so, because HR needs to develop a maturer attitude towards contributing to the success of the organisation.
An HR person must retain his/her own integrity but also be prepared to challenge proposals or decisions which, on the facts, are not appropriate ways forward for the organisation in its current context. Often HR will come over as taking a moral high ground without considering what options will be effective and making a persuasive case to the senior management team and/or CEO to support the preferred option.
Let me illustrate the above further with some examples of where HR initiatives distract the organisation. Mistaken approaches emerge frequently as follows.
HR will often favour adopting a common set of terms for the new organisation because it will be easier to manage across the ‘group’. The starting point for HR is not whether the acquired organisation operates in a differentiated market place but the convenience to HR of only dealing with one set of terms and conditions. However, the success of the acquisition may depend upon retaining its market aligned terms and rewards and the flexibility of staff to respond to customers.
During consultations with staff and trade unions, HR needs to encourage senior managers to think about the flexibility that is essential for the future so that it is not diluted unwittingly in discussions.
HR managers are swayed often by the latest hr initiative or one that will bring personal kudos to the HR manager. In such instances, the individual is driven by his/her own interest rather than what is best for the organisation. Initiatives such as succession management or talent management are introduced which sound appealing but may not fit with the market context and/or stage of the organisation’s growth and can be counterproductive.
For example, succession management can create frustration for staff and managers. Individuals are developed for positions in the future but the waiting period to attain the role may be too long so the individual moves on. The energy and time invested is wasted in the sense that the realistic prospect for the promotion was not assessed correctly.
Standing on the Sidelines
Sometimes it is beneficial to be in a position to observe what is happening and provide effective advice but HR Managers tend to stay on the sidelines and then bemoan that they have been sidelined.
Develop Professional Maturity to Add Value
How can an HR manager acquire a greater commercial and customer focus? Several ways are given below by which senior managers can encourage their HR manager(s) to develop their knowledge and skills to add value to the organisation:
- Join a project team that will give the individual greater exposure to the commercial aspects of the business as that will broaden his/her insight and give a better understanding of the dynamics between departments;
- Take on other managerial tasks such as leading the work on environmental management or another aspect if that is important to how the organisation is perceived by customers and others. This will broaden his/her skill set by having to get to grips with a different area of work;
- Encourage discussions with senior managers about significant hr management issues; explore the risks and whether those should be taken to free up the organisation. That may require both HR and operational managers to step out of elongated procedures where that is justifiable. The HR manager should challenge his/her own thinking – what are the best options for the organisation in a particular situation – and not be over cautious in his/her approach;
- Think about how issues or projects can be tackled along parallel tracks rather than a single sequential track. That will reduce the elapsed time and develop his/her flexibility e.g. putting the basics of HR in place and, at the same time, working on other issues/initiatives which are important to managers;
- Read regularly a magazine about your industry so you are aware of the issues, challenges and opportunities.
HR managers need to become commercially aware and adept at advising on solutions to issues which will help the organisation remain competitive and ready to tackle new challenges.
If you would like help to develop a commercial/customer focus in your HR Manager/Team
call Jim Harrington on 07808 765588 to discuss how we can help you.