I am going to go out on a limb and say that HR as a function within the corporate environment is fractured in its approach and often misunderstood by its clients and practitioners.
I believe that the only way for us to fix this is for HR to manage and treat itself as a business, not just a corporate function.
Ever since David Ulrich posited the idea of the HR champion and challenged us to define the value created by HR, the profession has struggled to create a model that will actualise the concepts. It constantly wavers backwards and forwards between the three competing imperatives of commercial enablement, employee engagement and legislative/corporate compliance.
We’re trying to build the plane while flying, without any blueprints, while at the same time providing meal service to multiple classes of passengers, all with different needs and who are continually changing seats. Oh, and finally, every plane in the fleet is designed differently according to their task, route, flying time and destination.
We have to stop the metaphorical hand-wringing and navel-gazing and start doing something about it.
Looking at HR as a business, certain elements become clear:
- A successful business with multiple complementary product and service lines needs to have a consultative sales and solution-delivery approach to providing outcomes aligned to the customer’s strategy.
- It should undertake detailed and regular reviews to identify customers and their needs.
- It should regularly review its services and solutions so that their ROIs can be demonstrated and improved upon.
Every business needs a brand and every tribe a totem. HR suffers from a toxic brand in its market.
How often are we called ‘Human Remains’ or ‘Parties and Cakes’? As a business, we need to define who we are, what we stand for and how we will accomplish our mission. If we don’t improve our brand, we will increasingly lose business to companies that understand what customer service and accountability are all about.
The ‘HR business’ I propose, follows a standard flow: define, design, build, deploy and run:
- Begin with the identification and segmentation of customers along with definition and refinement of the customer’s needs and desired outcomes.
- Design and build solutions to meet those outcomes.
- Optimise the delivery while managing perceptions and expectations through strong customer relationship management.
- Finally, using monitoring and feedback, formal and informal, we continuously improve the solution portfolio.
On top of the business flow, we overlay a complementary structure comprising a core capability and partner network, including the following:
- Business partners aligning HR and business strategies.
- Workforce planning/strategic resourcing, taking demand signals from the business and filling the talent pipeline.
- HR capabilities/lines of business by providing specialist support and programs.
- Solution delivery, targeting cross-functional project implementation.
- Employee relations, covering HR operations and IR.
- The HR help desk, dealing with customer queries and case management.
There will always be a need to balance the tension between the strategic and the transactional, the solution delivery with the day-to-day routine. We fulfil the first by ensuring that there is a single point of contact for the delivery of each solution. That individual qualifies the need with business partners and leadership and manages expectations and achievement of outcomes, using all the HR functions for design and implementation of the solution.
We manage the operational by supporting a lean HR operations group with a tiered customer engagement model. Customers begin by gaining access to the HR intranet/HRIS for information, forms and workflow, before moving to the HR help desk for query resolution, then case management for specialist advice and lastly, into an escalation process as appropriate.
As a business we have to be smart about what metrics we choose and ensure that they are aligned to the corporate aims.
HR must become a business that adds value. Not because it is a ‘nice to have’ but because if we don’t then HR will become further marginalised and that seat we want will be under, not at, the table.