Over the past year or two, AHRI has taken a number of steps to get a contemporary fix on what is expected of the HR function in Australia. We first asked practitioners themselves what they believe business expects of them, and we used the most recent data from professor Dave Ulrich’s University of Michigan longitudinal study on HR, as well as our own survey findings on the question, ‘What is good HR?’
More recently, we have worked with survey specialist Insync to get an outside perspective on that research by asking chief executives and senior public servants what they want from HR.
Another outside perspective comes without us asking anyone. I am referring to judgments in the courts and tribunals that hear cases arising from within the nation’s workplaces.
A case widely reported in the media last month involved an unfair dismissal claim by a team leader on a major joint venture project. His employment had been terminated following disgraceful behaviour at the work Christmas party, where he had engaged in random drunken invective. His dismissal was based on eight incident reports from that evening, the factual basis of which were not in dispute.
That said, Fair Work Commission vice president Adam Hatcher found in the applicant’s favour because the case mounted by the company was flawed. He expressed ‘surprise’ that this was so because he noted the company was able to draw on HR expertise.
One flaw was that the team leader was at no stage refused a drink at the work function, despite being plainly intoxicated. Another was that the most serious incident was the aggressive bullying of a young colleague with the questions: “Who the f*** are you? What do you even do here?” That incident was not included in the letter of termination, hence the applicant was not given an opportunity to respond.
In mentioning this case, I am mindful that HR practitioners too often have to wear the ignominy of decisions that were not of their making, and there are very good reasons why HR should avoid earning the tag of corporate police. I am also conscious that astute HR leaders take steps to ensure they do not get caught in these corporate crossfires. Indeed, taking those steps is part and parcel of their stock in trade as professional business partners.
Nevertheless, the fact is the commission vice president was clearly not impressed by having to find in the applicant’s favour, and expressed his displeasure directly by referencing shortcomings of HR.
AHRI’s Model of Excellence, on which we are basing our new HR certification model, sets out the inside and outside expectations of HR. Among other things, those qualities include HR practitioners being credible and solutions-driven, and being able to exercise influence at the table in a way that benefits both the business and the profession to which they belong.
As we progress towards the full implementation of AHRI’s enriched certification model, we will be communicating directly with businesses to assist them to find certified HR practitioners who have demonstrated a combination of knowledge and skill that make them true business partners. As one of our state councillors recently put it, “If we don’t convince business that certified practitioners know what they should be doing, and can actually do it, it’s all for nothing”.
This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the August 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘What is expected of HR’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.