Blinkered HR does not mean business

The CIPD is responsible for HR’s poor image. Having set itself apart as a
technical profession, it is seen as an insular, business-shy function

A number of recent research studies have reached the conclusion that HR is
not very effective.

Guest and King report that the vast majority of senior managers are unaware
of evidence linking HR activities to the bottom line. Furnham, however, strikes
closer to home, claiming the root cause of its poor image is that a significant
proportion of HR executives lack professional competence.

Unfortunately, both studies bear critical scrutiny. In a time of tremendous
competitive pressures when there is more need than ever to create value through
people, the HR function is often seen as an impediment rather than a driving
force. Why is this?

It is not as though there is a shortage of talented people in the
profession. Competition for jobs in HR means that departments can be selective
and pick some very capable individuals. The problem, therefore, appears to lie

The heart of the problem is that HR lacks business skills – in its desire to
become a profession HR has focused too heavily on increasing technical skills.
The result is that the decisions and activities of many HR departments are not
seen as aligned to corporate goals and too few HR directors are perceived by
CEOs as key colleagues in the drive to create shareholder value.

This can become a vicious circle whereby the board’s expectations of HR are
lowered and this breeds complacency among HR executives to deliver business

A lot of the blame can be laid at the door of the CIPD. For years the
institute’s training has focused on technical skills and covered business
skills in only a perfunctory fashion. This has resulted in HR executives who
are experts in personnel matters but lack the financial and business skills
essential to influence their organisations at the highest level.

CIPD training may now have core management as a compulsory component, but it
is not until people study for the new Advanced Practitioner standard that the
value-adding role and potential of HR is really explored.

IPD members were rightfully proud when their professional body was awarded
chartered status. However, this served to increase the specialist nature of the

Membership requires considerable formal training as well as time in the
role, and few departments will hire managers without CIPD membership. Those who
have spent years acquiring HR skills are loath to move into a different role
and managers elsewhere in the organisation are unable to transfer into HR.

This means that the HR function all too often grows apart from other
corporate departments and loses alignment with business objectives. The
combination of specialist training and professional insularity is a major
problem that must be addressed.

Training and experience are not the only cause of HR’s difficulties. As
someone who specialises in the field of assessment and job content, it is
apparent to me that there is a paradox in the HR role.

Increasing legislation has meant that a significant component of the HR
function is to control process and ensure compliance. This creates a mindset of
caution and risk management.

Meanwhile, organisations responding to external pressures are having to
change and develop at a faster pace than ever before. Therefore the HR
department is all too often regarded as the team who will prevent and hinder
rather than initiate and facilitate.

There is a need to improve CIPD training for those entering the profession
and encourage existing managers to develop business skills through practical
training and exposure to a broader work environment.

By Richard Alberg,  chief
executive of Psychometric Services Ltd

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