Senior HR figures reject claims that future of profession is in doubt

Senior figures have rushed to the defence of the HR profession following a major report that claimed its very future was in doubt.

The Key Trends in Human Capital study, by consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), said the reputation of the HR function “was at a low ebb” and there was “little evidence” to show that the influence of HR had increased in the boardroom.

PwC’s research was based on a survey of 1,150 chief executives globally as well as information gathered from more than 1,000 companies worldwide.

Richard Phelps, lead partner on HR management at PwC, said the report showed chief executives’ top concern was ‘the people agenda’, but that they questioned whether their HR function could tackle it.

HR services were increasingly being provided by a range of other departments, he said, calling into question the need for a separate function.

“To arrest the decline in the status and the reputation of the function, there is little doubt that there is an urgent need to embrace broader business disciplines, adopting a genuine strategy to relate measurable people policies to the goals of the organisation,” said Phelps.

But Linda Holbeche, director of research and policy at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, insisted suggestions that the future of the HR function was in doubt were “fanciful”.

She told Personnel Today: “There’s never been a time when organisations have been clearer on the vital importance of maximising the contribution of people to deliver business strategy and high performance.

“And there’s never been a time when chief executives have been hungrier for the answers on how to gain competitive advantage through the engagement of their people.”

Tom Randle, head of HR at insurer Europ Assistance, said the report was “worthy, wordy and desperate to find justification for a series of measurements”.

He added: “Don’t always assume the correct thing to do is to set a plethora of targets and measurements. What matters is what works: HR professionals would do well to remember this.”

Claire Walton, HR director at outsourcing provider Ventura UK, said: “The HR function is definitely changing and for the better. It should not overtly go out to prove itself.”

Feedback from the profession

“HR is at a crossroads. The next decision [practitioners] make will determine the long-term future of HR as a profession. The future is about debagging HR: getting rid of those elements that add no value or can be done quicker, cheaper or better by others.”
Graham White, HR director, Westminster City Council

“HR professionals should have the behaviour, knowledge and skills required, and demonstrate them day in, day out, so they are invited into the decision-making process without prompt or question.”
Claire Walton, HR director, Ventura UK

“HR’s role is certainly more complicated than in the past, and it is not surprising the function does not look as ‘neat’ as maybe it has previously. This does not mean the function is in trouble.”
Linda Holbeche, director of research and policy, CIPD

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