Has any other business role been debated as much as that of HR? Too strategic at the expense of being employee champion? Too much ‘welfare’ at the expense of the bottom line?
On a daily basis we wear many hats, from employee confidant to management consultant. For the latter, we can perhaps be outsourced for the former, we must be visible, approachable and available. We must be part of the whole team, and not sit exclusively at the captain’s table.
Without doubt, HR can only add value if it is part of the management team that determines business strategy. But ‘HR’ stands for ‘human resources’ – not ‘heartless robots’. Each human resource has its own rich mix of needs and wants, and occasionally a need or want becomes special, and requires individual attention.
That special want or need can show itself at a single, personal level, or more widely. In responding to the former, we are ’employee confidant': listening to particular concerns, worries or ambitions that a person needs to share with someone – someone other than their colleagues or line manager. This is often resolved by helping that person to see the issues clearly and objectively, giving them a vocabulary and a plan of action through which they can themselves find a satisfactory solution. This can be a mini ‘personal empowerment’ for employees, which encourages both self-confidence and increased engagement with the organisation. It’s also their opportunity to let off steam, requiring HR people to fulfil our role as ‘organisational safety-valve’.
The special want or need can also emerge at a macro level, across a part – or parts – of an organisation. Take management training. The concept that a manual skill must be taught and learned – operating a machine safely, laying bricks securely – is never questioned. A manager’s need to learn about budgets or managing a capability or conduct problem is often overlooked as if simply by becoming a manager, the person is magically endowed with all those ‘invisible’ skills such as listening and exercising sound judgement. HR is the team that fights to fill that gap for all those people who are crucial to organisational efficiency and success.
Another classic example is bullying. We lead the fight to eliminate it: lending an early ear when someone begins to feel bullied encouraging work-life balance, which prevents stressed or insecure people from becoming bullies having antennae alert to spot and deal with incipient harassment at an early stage encouraging others to speak up and enforcing rigorous controls to limit unhappiness and damage to the company.
Masses of data on people management is collected to improve our human capital management – absence, employee turnover, retention, revenue per employee. All of this information is vital to our role of trendspotter. From these analyses, we have to ask questions such as: “Why is turnover higher in one department than all the others?” In so doing, we sometimes uncover difficult issues, such as personality clashes, or lack of empowerment. Identifying the trends and resolving the issues are significant ways in which we add value to the bottom line.
In these and other examples, we are the Jiminy Crickets of our organisations – the conscience on their corporate shoulders. We remind managers how to handle misconduct or poor performance when their busy schedules encourage them to cut corners and risk costly outcomes. As Jiminy Cricket, we add value to our intangible assets – employee engagement, commitment, ideas and innovations – and hence to the bottom line.
We have a symbol at Accord to denote our determination to ensure profit has been made by engaging with employees and all our other stakeholders. Each pound sign we make must sit beside a smiley face. Jiminy Cricket recommends it to you and your organisation.