managersOver a quarter of senior HR professionals think their HR function is ineffective, according to research released this morning.

The study, carried out by Orion Partners, a management consultancy specialising in HR and talent, reveals 26% of senior HR professionals consider their HR function to be ineffective.

The research, which spans across the public and private sectors and gauges the views of the HR leaders of some of the UKs biggest organisations, reveals almost two in five (37%) of senior HR professionals think the purpose and values of their HR function are poorly defined. It polled 67 HR leaders and senior pros at organisations with a combined total of 1.1 million UK employees.

Analysis by Orion suggests the failure of some HR departments to define their purpose is the major reason why over a quarter of the UK’s HR departments are deemed ineffective.

Orion’s research also suggests a lack of mechanisms to evaluate the performance of HR is another reason behind the ineffectiveness of some departments. Over half (54%) of senior HR professionals admit there are no mechanisms in place to evaluate the effectiveness of HR.

And over two-thirds (70%) say decision-making isn’t supported by robust management information, suggesting the HR initiatives and decision-making in their departments aren’t based on a solid bed of fact and thorough analysis.

Jane Chesters, partner at Orion, explains: “There are areas where HR departments are particularly strong. But those strengths are interspersed with two major weaknesses. First, is a lack of mechanisms to evaluate the effectiveness of HR. It means some departments are essentially flying blind. The second is a worrying failure to define the business purpose of the HR department and the set of values which guide it. This goes someway to explaining why over a quarter of senior HR professionals think their department is ineffective. If you’re not clear why you are there, and can’t articulate what you stand for, it’s difficult drive an effective strategy.

“If business purpose and values aren’t clearly defined, it is difficult for HR leaders to communicate their vision, and that stymies the ability of the department to implement an effective strategy. We call that clear definition of purpose the ‘golden thread’, which runs all the way through the organisation and shapes the individual goals of each member of the team. But too many departments lack that definition of purpose. A HR team can only be clear and consistent in their purpose if they know what they are trying to achieve. Many do not.”

This failure to define the purpose of the function is compounded by a failure to articulate the commercial and business value that new HR initiatives have. Almost a third (30%) of senior HR professionals think new initiatives are not communicated in a way which explains their relevance to business objectives and commercial goals. And one in six (17%) of senior HR professionals say their department isn’t close to the rest of the business.

Jane Chesters says: “Great HR manifests itself at two levels: organisational and individual. When organisations get it right we see it in the way the function is structured, its systems, its processes and governance. At an individual level, it defines the mind-set and capabilities which drive successful HR. Our research and experience has found the best HR departments – at both an organisational and an individual level – are purpose and values led, disciplined, insightful, self-aware, collaborative, and strong communicators.

“Business strategy and people strategy are one and the same thing – a coherent people strategy should always be aligned to the business strategy, but in many cases, that isn’t happening, The impact and influence of a HR leader at the top table of a business is often determined by what extent they are seen as ‘a business first person’. If they struggle to define the purpose of their own department, and how that relates to the aims of the business, their influence at the top table is diminished.”