In this competitive world, ‘less is more’

I have been reading with interest recent articles in Personnel Today about enormous HR departments. In some cases, the size of the HR function equates to the total headcount for all the employees at Scottish Water – which is a 24/7 business serving five million customers with a turnover of £1bn.

I am sure the employees in such mega HR departments are committed and diligent. However, I struggle to see how so many professionals can add value to the extent required to justify such high numbers.

I would strongly test the notion that ratios are relevant in these circumstances. One would expect enormous efficiency savings at administrative levels through the use of widely available HR systems, productively used.

Many HR processes can be largely automated, both adding value and leaving a smaller core of HR professionals to work in partnership with the business to deliver strategic HR objectives and high performance through their people.

In my previous organisation, we had some 23,000 staff, and HR was expected to be lean and facilitate tough, desired business outcomes. This is what drives greater creativity from HR, and assists in the prioritisation of key strategic HR objectives.

In my experience, there comes a point where additional resources are no longer the issue. Rather, the challenge is to create greater clarity of purpose, productivity and efficiencies from everyone in the team, and this is especially true for large employers.

The world of business is becoming evermore ambiguous and sets out complex and demanding agendas. Nowadays, the real test of an organisation’s effectiveness is the speed at which the capability of its single sustainable source of competitive advantage – its people – can be trained and motivated.

HR’s effective use of intelligent technology is a key enabler to the release of valuable resources to the enterprise, while allowing HR to largely shed its transactional coil, and operate effectively at a strategic level of influence.

Certainly in my current and previous roles, this has led to a strong, professional, respected but lean HR function, with increased capability proactively working with the business to deliver shared objectives and outcomes.

So it can be true; in the current tough business climate, ‘less is more’.

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By Paul Pagliari, HR director, Scottish Water

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