Time for a strategic line to secure the future of HR

I was speaking to the finance director of a medium-sized company recently, and he proudly told me that he only had four HR staff (including the people director) for his workforce of 2,500.

This people team was highly strategic, he said, and worked closely with the board to ensure that the company developed its staff to meet its business goals. All other HR duties were carried out by operational staff. He said he didn’t want to bring any more HR people in, as he regarded them as a cost that he just didn’t feel was justified.

Now, you could dismiss this as a typical finance director keeping tight control of the corporate purse. But it does raise questions about the evolution of HR’s role and status within an organisation.

If we believe a recent survey of senior executives (www.personneltoday.com/34264.article), then HR is the most unloved of all business functions, primarily because it has lots of responsibility but no ultimate control. The only way for HR to get respect from the top is to become more strategic, the report concludes.

One solution is for HR to pass its transactional duties on to a shared-services centre, and devolve more responsibility to line managers – a model that the Ministry of Defence is currently implementing (www.personneltoday.com/334255.article).

Not that HR has a great deal of faith in line managers’ ability to recruit, retain or appraise (page 6). HR fears that line managers are neither willing nor able to handle their people responsibilities.
It is arguable that with the burden of new legislation – particularly the anti-ageism laws due to come into effect in October (www.personneltoday.com/334240.article) – this may not be the right time to leave line managers to their own devices.

But if HR does pass on the nuts and bolts of its everyday responsibilities to other departments – and those line managers perform those tasks adequately – is there a risk that HR could be doing itself out of a job?

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