Get strategic to ensure future for HR in the UK

The doomsday scenario that we depict on page 1 of this week’s issue may send a shiver down your spine as you wonder whether your job will be the next to be outsourced. Or it may force you into articulating a robust defence of HR’s usefulness in today’s business context. Either way, it is likely to add to the debate about the shape of HR’s role in the future.

Not that there’s anything new about HR questioning itself.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s assistant director-general Duncan Brown – addressing the Institute for Employment Studies annual conference in London last week – said that “endemic insecurity” had been in the HR profession since its inception.

Brown quoted management expert Peter Drucker who, writing in the 1950s, said that the personnel function was constantly worrying about its lack of status and its inability to prove that it was making a contribution to the business, and said it was constantly searching for a gimmick to impress senior management.

Sound familiar?

The common denominator throughout these debates is the fact that HR needs to become more strategic. But, as Brown said, there is a delivery gap between HR’s strategic intentions and actually making them an operational reality in the business.

Line managers are usually blamed for holding HR back, because their people management skills just aren’t up to it. But is the business really stopping HR from progressing, or is HR stopping itself?

HR practitioners are so used to ‘doing’, that when taken out of their transactional comfort zone, they just don’t have the skills to perform a truly strategic role. That’s why those plum strategic jobs often end up going to people outside the profession.

For HR departments to maintain their relevance in the future, there is really only one option: become strategic and truly understand the business you work in.

As Brown concluded, to announce in today’s context that you’re going to take a non-strategic approach to your HR role would certainly be a career-limiting move.

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