Golden opportunity that HR can’t afford to miss

HR skills are at a premium. No other group has the skills or the vision to tackle these strategic issues

All the soul-searching within the HR profession over the past decade has focused on how practitioners can successfully shift from being an administrative function to a strategic one. Advances in technology have brought such ambitions within reach, given new momentum by the Internet.

The current economic situation seems to offer a golden opportunity for HR to seize the initiative. There has never been a better time to make a case for a strategic role for the profession. Indeed, a new report based on an international survey of HR managers and directors in 977 organisations reveals that the most important HR issues are organisation and culture change, leadership development and recruitment.

In light of this, the survey, conducted by consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers, reveals a profession with a surprising lack of confidence. In fewer than one in five companies did HR professionals say they were satisfied with the impact they were having on business strategy. And this lack of belief in the profession’s worth seems to be reflected in the boardroom with only 32 per cent of senior HR personnel securing a seat at the top table.

The problem appears to be that many HR departments are simply failing to raise their game to the level of the strategic arena. HR professionals from two in five companies say they are not satisfied with their policies in the war for talent, and despite identifying the need to develop new leaders as a top priority, departments are spending only 3 per cent of their time on leadership development, compared to 16 per cent on paperwork.

The irony is that HR skills are at a premium. No other group within organisations has the skills or the vision to tackle these strategic issues. New technology, the report concludes, is the solution to the HR credibility gap.

Of course, consultants will urge HR professionals to take up the latest technology and management ideas, while at the same time offering to show them how to implement them – for a (usually fat) fee. But there is a serious message. HR has to either embrace the new technology as the tool by which it reaches the Holy Grail of a truly strategic role, or that same technology could make the profession obsolete.

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