The Evolution of HR

The Evolution of HR

Recently I chanced upon an interesting article on Harvard Business Review by Peter Cappelli, on Why We Love to Hate HR…and What HR Can Do About It, and this triggered some provocative thoughts on the perception of HR in today’s corporate world and how HR can value add to the businesses.

Perception of HR

Unfortunately, HR is still very much perceived as an administrative function that conveniently positions itself as a cost centre. Various facets of HR are viewed as non-value adding work which can be outsourced easily, such as payroll, recruitment, expatriate management and the list goes on. In bad economic times, HR is not spared of the tragedy of staff layoffs either. However, from the perspective of HR or we envisage to be so, HR is a strategic partner that renders vision and insights into business strategies, based on their deep understanding of the people and organization, backed by strong data analytics. It seems like HR has been grossly mis-represented in the corporate world. What has caused the misconception of HR? Or is the “misconception” a truth afterall?

The “misconception” is a truth afterall

In my humble perspective, below are some observations which may have contributed to the “misconception” being a truth:

  1. Overwhelmed by operational work. HR encompasses a plethora range of functions that can be pretty administrative and time-consuming. Besides performing operational work to the required service delivery level, HR is also expected to put on their “strategic cap” to perform business partnering roles. However, very often, HR is overwhelmed by operational work to place emphasis on strategic work and gradually loses focus on business partnering function. The question is: How can we strike a balance between delivering excellent operational results, and planning and executing initiatives to support business strategies?
  2. Some are not HR thought leader. There are cases where some HR leaders are not HR trained, but were asked to fill the gaps hence they lack the knowledge and understanding of HR’s role in strategic business partnering. With the mismatch of qualities in HR leaders, they are unable to lead effectively and sail the HR function in the correct direction. A HR thought leader should possess business acumen and global mindset, with the ability to inject vision and insights into business strategies.
  3. Lack of support from Management. It is ineffective to drive HR initiatives across the organization without the support from Management. HR initiatives are generally perceived as additional work which deters employees, as they see little or no value in committing that effort and time on tasks that do not yield direct and immediate benefits especially since these are above and beyond their required work scope. Therefore it is important that HR initiatives are a mandate from Management, which portrays support and belief from Management, yet it should not be received as a “top-down” approach which sometimes may backfire, especially in a culture that promotes collaboration and cohesion.
  4. Lack of engagement. Some HR leaders view HR as the utmost function at the pinnacle of the organization, which has full autonomy and empowerment. Unfortunately HR takes a back seat in some organizations, functioning in silo, away from businesses and not taking the lead to drive business initiatives. Ideally, HR should be a collaborative voice that harmonizes all the core functions in an organization, to drive business excellence and effectiveness. Our emphasis should be placed on people, ensuring that they are well-engaged and motivated in their roles, so that they can continue to deliver results.

What can HR do to value add

Below are some recommendations highlighted in the article, which HR leaders can embark on to help organizations manoeuvre through the fast changing market shift:

  1. Set the agenda by articulating a viewpoint on people-related topics that impact the business.
  2. Focus on issues that matter here and now by crafting industry-specific policies and procedures that respond to today’s challenges.
  3. Acquire business knowledge and help organizations make sound interpretation of their employee data to capitalize on their human capital.
  4. Highlight financial benefits by quantifying costs and benefits which will embed HR strategies into business decisions.
  5. Walk away from the time wasters by avoiding heavy investments in initiatives that lack impact.

My 2-cents worth

I concur with Peter on this - the biggest challenge that faces HR today is to support business strategies, due to the constantly changing market conditions and economic landscape. On the contrary, HR is structured so and by nature, yields visible results in the long run; for instance building talent pipeline, developing succession plans, inculcating healthy corporate culture and the list goes on. However most of the times, HR initiatives are the first and foremost to be shaven off during bad economic times, for instance reducing training budget during a downturn etc, regardless of the tumultuous effects it brings in the near future. I believe there are so much more that HR can contribute to being a strategic partner to businesses, however Management has to commit the time and faith in HR strategies, to morph them into sound business strategies that can deliver organization effectiveness and excellence.

Ideas in this article have been adapted from Peter Cappelli’s HBR article on Why We Love to Hate HR…and What HR Can Do About It

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