With proposed government cuts expected to result in a large number of redundancies across the UK, HR professionals will be under pressure in 2011 to show their worth. Alan Jones, managing director of HR at Cascade, considers how HR needs to change to survive.
Critics – and indeed HR advocates – have long argued that HR needs to change to survive. And they have a point. With developments occurring constantly within employment and the across wider business environment, HR cannot afford to stand still. Like many facets of business it must continue to evolve so that it can deliver in the right way, to the right people at the right time, and to ensure it doesn’t become outpaced by other, perhaps more widely appreciated business departments. However, to do this one must consider the extent to which HR has already begun to change.
The role of HR has developed far beyond the reactive and administrative necessities of maintaining employee records and documenting absences. On the contrary, if effectively managed and underpinned by innovative systems, a multi-faceted HR function has the potential to include the roles of strategic partner, administrative expert, employee champion and change agent. To label it a somewhat stagnant profession is therefore unfair because, in truth, HR now has the ability to make an increasingly important, proactive and strategic contribution in the boardroom.
But because difficulty lies in quantifying, proving and promoting the ways HR can drive business strategy, add value and truly reap commercial advantage, it is perhaps no wonder that these misconceptions still exist.
Benefits to the bottom line have always been sought from HR, yet the need for transparency and financial justification within the function has come to the fore in these times of austerity. During the downturn an increasing number of HR departments were asked to prove their worth – a trend set to continue as companies seek to “future-proof” themselves from further economic turbulence.
Value of HR
What value do HR professionals add, and how can this be demonstrated? Defined measurement is key, as anecdotal claims will not carry enough weight in the current climate. An analysis of factors such as absence figures, sickness days, staff turnover, reporting times and recruitment costs, for example, is needed so that the HR team can understand the situation at a given point in time and has a point of reference.
Milestones must then be set so that the analysis becomes a routine process and achievements can be monitored and noted. As a by-product, this dedication to quantifying potential added value often plays a pivotal role in developing the “business case” for further investment in the HR department, should this be needed.
The next challenge, and perhaps the greatest one of all, is to “sell” ongoing results internally so that the entire organisation culturally engages with and fully supports the HR team. It must be communicated that HR is a proactive function, working in alignment with the rest of the business and creating a strategic buzz of its own.
In an era of ever-advancing technological capabilities, gathering and subsequently sharing this all-important information need not be a chore. More importantly though, intuitive technology exists to help generate this added value in the first place.
A reluctance to embrace technology within HR perhaps stems from the uninspiring, rigid and costly databases that have existed within the industry until very recently. However, modern intelligent HR systems now exist which “push” processes, generate opportunities, facilitate change and quickly become another valued member of the HR team.
It is also clear that HR applications have grown to become important business applications – 69% of respondents to a Cascade client survey reported improved HR efficiencies following the implementation of intuitive technology. One specifically pinpointed that, per person, key HR staff are saving approximately one working day per week, which equates to 3,000 hours saved per year.
At the same time, this reduced administration workload allows HR professionals to concentrate on more meaningful relationships with staff – truly a firm’s most valuable asset. When considering recent research statistics, revealed by management consultants Hays, which found that 51% of UK workers described themselves as disengaged, the highest level in Western Europe – it is clear the retention and development of skilled, motivated and committed employees is more important now than ever.
So it really is the time for HR to come to the fore as a respected, value-adding function which can fully support and influence the future direction of an organisation. But before others can truly appreciate the strategic contribution HR has to offer, HR professionals themselves need to blow their own trumpet.