Picking up the pieces: Personnel Today’s 360-Degree Appraisal of HR

The criticism

“HR is not very good at succession planning”

The evidence

46% of HR professionals think they arenot very good or poor at succession planning56% of business people think the same.

The expert view

Caroline Dunk, principal, CDA

Succession planning has always been something of a ‘Cinderella’, neglected in favour of other priorities. However, setting up an effective succession planning process need not be complicated it is all about asking the right questions.

First, what is the succession planning process for? You need to assess whether the process is primarily about managing risk by protecting against loss of key staff, or about maximising the talent pool available to the organisation. How open are you prepared to be with individuals about their place in the succession plan? What are the succession planning timeframes?

Second, what are the assessment criteria? It is important to assess competence and potential against an agreed set of criteria that reflect the strategic priorities of the organisation. There are leadership and succession models available, where you can plot potential and performance and identify candidates for promotion.

Third, can succession planning be integrated into existing HR processes? Ideally, assessment decisions will be made or confirmed as part of ongoing career discussions so that data is constantly updated, managers are engaged in the process, and any resulting development plans are integrated with other development activity. Roles in the process must be clearly specified, and it can help to have a dedicated succession committee to oversee the process and drive cross-business development.

Finally, consider how you will measure the results. There’s a saying that goes: ‘What gets measured gets done’ – so how will succession data be reported? What measures will be used to evaluate the success of the succession planning process? If these requirements are clear at the outset, they will help shape the overall approach.

It is only once HR professionals have answered these fundamental questions that they can start thinking about the more detailed aspects of succession planning.

The criticism

“HR is primarily an administrative function”

The evidence

HR professionals say this is the one task they are best known for business people rank it at number two, after recruitment and resourcing. While 68% of HR people admit that admin is their key focus, 80% of business people consider HR to be primarily administrative.

The expert view

Anthony Hesketh
Director, Lancaster University Management School, Centre for Performance-Led HR

HR already has its seat at the table, only most HR professionals don’t know the way to the boardroom. According to Personnel Today’s 360-Degree Appraisal of HR, senior managers outside the function are more likely to recognise the importance of HR than their managerial subordinates. So those managers who have been slating the HR function in meetings to gain credibility may need to review their career strategy.

Or maybe they don’t. Closer analysis of the data reveals that it is not that senior managers from other sectors see HR as important, but more that they are not quite as unhappy with HR as their subordinates. Moreover, half of all managers outside HR think the function represents poor value for money. Does this sound more familiar? More like the ‘us and them’ mentality that dominates most strategic debates on HR?

The conclusion of Personnel Today’s survey of the profession shows that HR is an administrative function. For many in HR, this description is akin to commercial leprosy. But it is extremely difficult to talk away the figures.

The latest data suggest that 90% of all HR time is taken up either with the doing, or managing, of administrative tasks. It is hardly surprising, then, to learn the majority of those outside the function view HR as an administrative function – it is.

This is not to say that HR is unimportant or that it cannot be strategic. Most organisations recognise the fundamental role of HR, even if they have concerns over its ability to deliver. But deliver what, exactly?

Nobody questions the strategic importance of ensuring the engagement of talent and its enablement through technology are crucial to delivering business strategy. Less commonly recognised is the strategic importance of well-executed HR administration.

Sure, the completion of the process to order a new company car is not going to make the strategic earth move for any company. But freeing those who are capable of transforming the business from the burden of poor administration can make all the difference in the world. And if they get high-quality financial advice, smooth HR support and world-class service execution, why would they want to go anywhere else?

The criticism

“HR produces too much red tape”

The evidence

46% of business people think this is the case, while only 34% of HR professionals agree.

The expert view

Jo Causon, director, marketing and corporate affairs, Chartered Management Institute

With vast amounts of legislation affecting how organisations recruit and retain their employees, HR practitioners have a vital role to play in ensuring they adhere to legal requirements. Unfortunately, legal requirements mean red tape. Their attention to detail is not borne out of administrative requirements, but more out of the need for compliance, transparency and fairness in all aspects of people management.

With the continuing skills shortage that employers are experiencing, there is a need for HR to align its activity more fully with the strategic direction and goals of the organisation to be able to deliver more effective retention and recruitment policies. There is ample evidence to suggest that where HR and business units are more closely aligned, delivery becomes relevant to organisational needs and employee aspirations. HR should, therefore, seek ways of working with business units at the start of the planning process. By doing so, HR can position itself as part of the business process and an integral part of the route to success, rather than an afterthought.

It should come as no surprise that if organisations were able to act upon reliable, transparent and predictive workforce measures, stakeholders would view HR more favourably.

HR can assist businesses in identifying the measures that make a difference, aligning these measures to specific business activity and proactively managing any related investments. But to make a difference they should produce measures appropriate for the audience and ensure that these remain dynamic and relevant and are not over-complicated.

However, this is a significant challenge for HR. Only one-third of middle managers think that human capital management is important. The messages about aligning people to the strategic needs of the business are not getting through. Clearly, more needs to be done to ensure communications are clear, concise and delivered in a language that can be understood by the recipients, otherwise the value that HR can add will not be recognised.

The criticism

“HR thinks it’s great at change management – we disagree”

The evidence

55% of business people think HR is not very good or poor at change management 74% of HR people think they are very good or fairly good.

The expert view

Robert Myatt, director, Kaisen Consulting

It would be strange if HR departments thought they were less than great at change management. But too often they are left to pick up the pieces once the process has derailed and cannot avoid the reputation of being distinctly poor at it.

Typically, change management is dominated by IT or the major project teams – which usually means that the psychological impact is underestimated or ignored. But getting this right, ensuring that the ‘people side’ is managed well, requires HR to be involved at the outset to proactively manage the psychology of change. If this is not done, more time and money will have to be expended down the line on keeping changes in place.

Implementing people change is not common sense. It is not something that comes naturally. It has to be done consciously and HR has to embrace the science of psychology if it is to be done well.

Making the difference in successful change management means recognising and encouraging the motivation to change in the three key groups: stakeholders (those with power and influence) target groups (those who the change will affect) and the change agents (those making the changes). HR needs to manage the psychology of these discrete groups differently if change is to be successful.

Reactions to change will vary between and within the groups ranging from apathy to excitement and anxiety. To avoid negative responses, which might lead to turf wars and a failure of trust, HR must gain ‘buy-in’ to the change programme across the groups. This means ensuring that all groups are emotionally engaged with change and energised for it. HR needs to arouse emotions in favour of change – thereby addressing latent aggression, fear or indifference.

Psychology is all about predicting how people think, feel and behave. By adopting the principles of psychology, HR has a much better chance at being ‘great’ at change management.

The criticism

“Managers associate HR with bad news”

The evidence

53% of HR professionals think this is the case 41% of business people agree.

The expert view

James Underhay, commercial director, Chiumento

So 53% of HR professionals think that managers associate HR with bad news and 41% of business people agree. But let’s be positive – 59% of business people don’t attach negativity to HR, so how can we build on that?

HR has changed over the years. The modernisation of the role has shifted the HR function from a front-line position to one of ‘internal consultant’, called upon to provide expertise. The results of this shift mean that, in some organisations, HR is viewed as remote from the day-to-day running of the business. Although HR’s elevation to expert is positive, in reality their expertise is often called upon in difficult or negative situations, such as downscaling. This combination of distance and being the bearers of bad news is compounded by the very nature of HR – that it affects people on a personal level.

It is a problem, but not an insurmountable one. The key is repositioning. If HR is viewed as secretive and distant in your organisation, you need to bring yourselves closer to staff. Throw your doors open and invite questions and scrutiny, hold a session to enable this, use technology to promote HR through your corporate intranet or host an online discussion. It may temporarily add to the workload, but improving accessibility, visibility and understanding will build trust and open up the lines of communication, benefiting everyone.

HR is renowned for collecting people statistics that are often only used to influence board policies. But what are the positive messages that staff could get out of these? Perhaps sickness and absence records have improved in the last 12 months. If so, congratulate staff (and if you can make a correlation with an HR-led initiative, all the better). Maybe you can draw some positive messages from your performance figures or your recruitment statistics. Be proactive and use the information to highlight how HR activities improve the working lives of everyone in the organisation.

Sometimes there is no getting away from the ‘dirty work’ that so often falls to HR. The key here is communication. Don’t let the company grapevine get there first – this will only make your task harder. If there is bad news, communicate it quickly, openly and honestly. Lay out the facts and be consistent. Employees will respect you for it.

Altering perceptions will not happen overnight, but a few changes will put HR on the road to positivity.

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