In all of my travels, my highest admiration goes out to HR professionals. These stalwarts of corporate life structure and organise the most precious resource a business has, its people. That said those involved in HR often do not enjoy the status of Director or board functionary, and are often seen as a simple functional post within the company, rather than a necessarily strategic one.
Of course, it all depends on organisational style and culture, but frequently, HR professionals are the unsung heroes of any company’s functionality. They are frequently deployed at the 11th hour in a situation where earlier intervention could have averted a crisis. Not surprisingly, many of them have to work in a reactive stance, as opposed to a strategic one, desperately trying to mop up the unintended consequences of managers and leaders in other parts of the business.
This is why Human Resources is a profession in its own right and is truly a strategic resource for any organisation. The role of a HR specialist can vary in its tasks, including staff retention, mental health programmes, engagement programmes, and complex staff development/workforce planning schemes, right the way through to the reactive ones that keep the company out of tribunals.
All too often, the lack of involvement of HR professionals at a strategic level within the business can result in them being used rather like the people who go in and bayonet the wounded after a battle, rather than someone whose skills are used to broker peace before the conflict degenerated!
Companies that are creative in the use of HR enjoy the benefits of proactive workplace policies with a motivated and enlightened workforce. Informal dispute resolution is commonplace to ensure that difficulties do not escalate, and the interface between the staff and management is well brokered, subject to regular boundary reviews, and emotionally intelligent in its reflexivity. HR departments are well resourced in such organisations and the status of the HR lead is one that adequately positions them within the decision-making systems, where they can proactively influence its culture and processes. Not infrequently, this means a Director position and/or a place on the board.
This is in stark contrast to companies with more “reactive” cultures , where the HR professional is a backroom person mired with the old ideological mantle of “personnel officer”. In such companies, the HR professional can be treated as simply a problem solver and broker of lesser evils. They are seen as someone to pass problems to rather than participate within the growth of the business.
The bottom line here is that people matter in businesses, and even some of the most caring of organisations often fail to appreciate the value of good HR support as a strategic, cultural and organisational change opportunity. As with all things strategic, one gets the advantages one invests in, and for those who have perhaps not seriously evaluated their HR practices, there are significant gains to be achieved by a thorough review.
So let’s hear it for HR professionals everywhere! They are, in many ways, the glue that holds organisations together. Even the smallest companies can benefit from their input, and those that cannot afford to have their own have a number of outsource opportunities around that require careful consideration as to whether they are to be used as a strategic resource or simply to mitigate problems.