Is HR a profession or a job?

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A job implies that it is something anyone can do with a minimal amount of training or knowledge. I have always agreed that HR is a profession – it is not something that can be done effectively without commitment of the individual, continued learning and development, and skill levels capable of delivering and managing the most expensive, flexible and problematic resources in any business – the workforce.

For that reason the HR professionals should be at the very heart of business decision making. After all it is not the machines, the IT, the nice offices or the solid wood desks that drive a business forward…it is the people. It is the people who make things work and it is the people who can adapt to the different demands made of them.

So why is it that so often when decisions are made about what direction a company should take in meeting demand or changing its performance profile is the HR Director is usually the last to be consulted?

Picture the scene………

When new events arise, such as changes to legislation or market conditions and you get that “big idea” but it means people working or behaving in a different way, most business start by “I’ll write a policy to cover that”.

Well it’s a start, but policies are an expression of good intentions, they say what you would like to do, but is its existence is not really enough.

In many organisations when it comes to making that transition, all that commitment and all those skills of the HR professionals are at worst simply not counted, or at best treated as if they are some advisory service – an adjunct to the process rather than the key driver. It is as if people are a “given” and have no part to play in making that big idea happen.

Now I am not arguing that HR professionals have the final say. But I am arguing that they should have much more of a say rather than no say.

So how have we arrived at this situation where HR professionals in many businesses are not really consulted? And perhaps more importantly how do we move the HR profession from the last to be consulted to the first?

Well it’s all about how we handle that transition process….the conversion of that big idea through a measured process that delivers the desired outcome.

Sounds simple enough, but I have always found that many businesses just don’t follow the big idea through.

Mundane as it may be, in order to make a big idea a reality you have to be clear about:

  • what you want to achieve
  • how you are going to achieve it
  • how the workforce will get it done
  • how do you know when you have arrived

You also need to have inclusive processes that effectively communicate what you need to be done to the people who will actually deliver your vision and, just as important, get that news out to customers, clients and suppliers.

So what are those 5 factors that will drive HR from last to first?

Flexibility

People have to become the centre of the process, the key driver in success. To do that they need to become more responsive, more flexible in how they work……and no more so than now. HR has to lead the way in new ways of working, looking at different work patterns such as home working, multi-task training and job-sharing and evaluating what benefits they deliver to the business. Engaging the staff by encouraging them to become more flexible in their approach to work and by building transferable skills that can add value throughout the business making people more receptive to change and ready to take advantage of new business opportunities

Proactive

Being proactive means reading the market and making the adjustments necessary to address the perceived opportunities or changes ahead of time. That often translates into the “guys in marketing”….but actually it is much more. HR have a key role to play as the market is not just for the product or service your business offers, but it is also the identification of the human resources or ways of working that can offer competitive advantage. It means keeping an eye on what is happening in the markets, how your sector competitors operate, new initiatives and changes in legislation. It means feeding that back into the system, making sure your business understands the challenges or opportunities these can bring, not just keeping your thoughts within HR. You need to think bigger………

Keeping it lean

Whatever happens in business, one thing remains constant, overheads and process act as deadweight. You often hear the phrase – the market is very competitive at the moment – which means margins are being squeezed. It is in everyone’s interests to ensure the business is profitable which means keeping an eye on administration. I know that administration is essential, and I have worked in it long enough to be able to mount a creditable and powerful case for the need of good administration, but I also know that it can run away from you and start to become an end it itself rather than something that supports the delivery of the product or service. Hard as it may be to admit, administration does not generally earn money, unless you are an administration provider of course and HR is administration….and yes I know that other areas within the business may have the same problem…but you are seeking to establish your credibility.

Leadership is about leading by example and that means examining what you do and making sure that your staff are effective…and flexible….that HR process are kept light and reviewed on a regular basis to make sure the deliver what you want…and encouraging feedback from your users so you can evaluate if the user ends up with what they want from the service you have provided. In short you need to operate HR like an efficient business…and that builds credibility

Effective conduit

HR has a unique role in any business as it is seen both by the workforce and by the management structure as the main conduit for information exchange. It almost acts like a relationship site….the agony aunt, the mediator, the person who finds new people, the problem solver…and the list goes on. This conduit allows you to understand the workings of a business from a far more sophisticated standpoint than anyone else….it tells you about people …..the people who make the business work….and therefore the health of that business in facing new challenges. So do not discourage it but remember, to be of value, you may have may have to let other Directors know your overall health assessment.

Language

Like all professions we all develop our own common language dotted with code, shorthand and euphemisms. Believe it or not, but just like when you ask someone from IT to fix the problem you are having when you click on an icon nothing happens …..and then they go into detail about the inner workings of a programme….. most people tend to look a little like a goldfish. Remember to talk in language that business understands – about increases flexibility, enhances profit potential, measures and validates achievement, aligns business practice, enhances reputation – how it benefits the bottom line.

The result

That is simple……people become the value add to the process of transition…. vision to success….not just another resource…..and the Director of that resource becomes someone who is a key driver not just an afterthought and you move from the last to be consulted to the first.

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3 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. Whilst I agree that people are the sole drivers of the end result and that communication is the key to success, it concerns me that “HR” should be seen as the key to “managing people”. There can be nothing worse than people reporting to two or even more “bosses”. Direction is lost. Management are responsible for getting the message out in simple terms. Line management are responsible for ensuring the people are engaged in that message. HR can play a part but cannot become directly involved with all of the people. Heirarchy is there for a reason.

  2. Whilst this is a really good point about HR needing to be at the heart of change – we need to demonstrate our value through insight and bold leadership. HR must stop certain activities and one of them acting as victims. We will only be taken seriously if the CEO and FD really value what we are saying.http://rs-social.com/jobs/2010/12/effective-business-hr/

  3. I agree Les that HR should have a strategic place at the heart of business, however, it seems to me that more often than not, the HR function itself which sits right in the very heart of people, has itself forgotten that people are core its very functioning, and indeed, its existence.

    Talk about ‘people’ is, as you rightly pointed out, talk about the individual – which incidentally is what is at the heart of diversity is all about. More often than not, the HR function has become so ‘strategic’ that it appears to have forgotten its roots – the individual.

    HR needs to rediscover that it is through effectively engaging the individual (not the Senior Manager, or Chief Executive, as such) that gives it is credibility and indeed the opporutunity to be ‘slap bang’ at the heart of decision-making – and recognised by stakeholders as an indispensable value adding function.

    For me, understanding the individual is central to the viability and appreciation of the HR function. If can get that right, like a jig-saw, all other things will fall back in place. It would have re-discovered it vision!

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