HR must focus on the ‘what’, not the ‘how’

How many HR professionals are truly focused on service? Typically, many of
us talk of being customer focused – we attempt to shift the emphasis in
operations away from processes, to what the customer wants. But true customer
service is only fully in place when our attention is structured according to
what customers are saying they want and need.

The irony is that this is not an exclusive problem to HR. Many organisations
in so-called service industries find it hard to make that change. Be they banks
or booksellers, every aspect of operations from the supply chain to corporate
culture is deeply rooted in a process mentality, not service. Manufacturing is
the exception. Manufacturers have always been focused on outputs. So, if screws
coming out of machines on the factory floor fail real-time quality checks, the
manufacturing process is stopped there and then. Today, it is even the case
that a car does not come off the assembly line unless there is a customer to
buy it. It is for this reason that management methodologies of various sorts,
from benchmarking to total quality management, originate in manufacturing best
practice.

How, though, can service disciplines in manufacturing be translated to a
back-office function as different from making screws as HR? The key is to
introduce autonomy into service monitoring. On the shopfloor, the quality
manager has the power to stop production over the operations managers. In the
manufacturing context, this sets up a natural tension that works to maintain
and drive up quality. So, if a system can be set up whereby service control in
the HR department operates independently of HR per se, then we have taken a
first step in the right direction. Like the quality manager, that HR service
management has no responsibility for actual delivery, but it has every
responsibility for what the customer wants.

Further, it also has the responsibility of informing HR what customers want
and must be involved in the mechanisms for describing and implementing the
processes that are going to provide it. This is an important point, because
like the exact metrics by which the quality manager judges outputs, service
outputs too cannot just be allowed to evolve but must be determined up front.
At Xchanging, we call this service definition. It is a mechanism for breaking
down any particular service so that it can be gauged as precisely as the
quality of a screw or the performance of a car. Each customer of an HR service
– be it for recruitment, remuneration or absence due to illness – has a similar
service definition. These can then be integrated together so that all HR
services function according to output. Our customers understand what they want;
we worry about how to deliver it.

By Alan Bailey. Head of business process outsourcing Xchanging

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