The future for HR: Get an attitude – or get your kit and get outta town

The possibility is that HR departments might become a thing of the past. That is, unless we refocus. And we need to do so pretty darn quickly. Far too long, we have navel-gazed about what HR is, and worried far too much about processing. Put simply, there are cheaper – and probably more effective – ways of handling personnel matters. It is called clerking and doesn’t, in all cases, require qualified HR professionals.

The way ahead is about transforming about changing the way people and organisations work. This means getting alongside managers to manage better understanding the business and facilitating its change programmes improving productivity and performance coaching learning and a lot of workforce planning and forecasting. This is what HR is about. And the quicker we realise it, the more secure the function will become.

The only model in town

Many of us have developed, or are developing, service centre-type structures. It is the only model in town and we have to make it work. What I have seen so far impresses me, but the longevity of this approach will be the real test. I don’t know another model that is affordable. And I know – from personal experience – that the journey to a different structure is pretty painful. But it is an essential one, as the alternative is death by a thousand cuts.

I changed my view about HR when I became HR director of a large, private healthcare group. It was the market leader in its field and hugely successful. It was growing quickly and was very acquisitive, but it had a problem losing its best senior people, and a real haemorrhaging of the people who built its reputation – nurses and care staff. It had no HR, but an HR response was required. I was appointed. When I started, I had no staff, no department, nothing. But it was clear that what the company expected from me was a ‘value-added’ response to its problems that would help it maintain its market position.

The big adjustment for me was that all the processing – pay, appointments, contracts, training bookings, retirements, resignations, et al – were done by clerks. And they were pretty good at it. I was left to get on with the strategic role I was appointed to do – eventually with a small team. I have never looked back.

In the public sector, money is short. Back-room functions (and yes, for many HR is one of those) are under the cosh and, unless we get wise quickly, there is a clear danger that we will get economised out of the equation. The strategy will suffer, but the processing won’t.

But don’t wait to do what will be done to us soon. Look at what HR is doing and why, and manage the change.

By the way, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development: please look at the qualification structure, too – to ratchet up the skills and techniques needed for a contemporary HR service.

Value-adding HR

I believe in successful HR. Properly focused, it adds value to the bottom line. Deep down, most organisations know that. The trouble is, there are not many who know exactly what they want from their HR. And in many cases, HR is the whipping boy of sloppy administration and doer of deeds not fancied by managers.

I’m fortunate to work in an organisation that does know what it wants from its HR. And mostly – though not always – I agree with it. But I certainly have a boss and am part of a board that knows what it wants. The other members welcome my views on the business, and they want me to help drive it. Their vision is mine, and vice-versa.

If HR is to survive its current doldrums, we need to get a whole deal wiser to the business and start using our muscle to drive serious organisational reform.

The challenges ahead are serious – and they require our serious attention. In other words, we need HR with attitude.

Martin Tiplady
HR director, Metropolitan Police Service

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