HR – In the Trenches!

As I recover from a bacterial infection which I acquired from assisting in the floods cleanup in Brisbane, Australia, I ask myself the question – What could I have done to prepare myself?

In early 2011, I was one of the many Australians who were caught up in the sense of urgency to go and provide assistance to other fellow Australians were affected by the floods.  Never during that time, did I consider the full ramifications of working in flooded areas because I assumed I was healthy and fit and could withstand any challenge that came my way.  From my own personal perspective, there was a total underestimation and I realise now that sometimes we misinterpret situations and has dire future consequences.

 I feel my current personal experience can be related to my ongoing discussion regarding the role of HR practitioners and how we strive to partner with business to achieve business outcomes.  I have posted a number of articles on the HR Strategic Partners blog which have explored this theme that sees HR to struggle being a strategic HR partner in business.  Are the current HR strategies, initiatives, and frameworks being implemented in tune with the business?

 One of these conversations highlights how HR may invest, for example, in the creation of competency frameworks , but if it doesn’t look through its strategic lens and develop each element of the framework so it links to broader corporate goals, a big opportunity has been lost – for HR, employees and the company.

 Paul Kearns notes that while HR is dealing with the reactive and transactional stuff, HR focus is often taken off the ball of the strategic stuff.  He points to a kind of process myopia, where too much time and energy is put into the creation and fulfillment of process – for review and appraisal, for talent management, for creation of competency frameworks.

 In a recent report by Bersin and Associates entitled The High Impact Organisation: 10 Best Practices on the Road to Excellence, the research clearly shows that the days of bloated HR organisations focused on administrative tasks are over.  Among the findings, the report states that companies that empower key HR professionals to take on a ‘strategic business partner’ role create HR teams that outperform the average HR organisation by 25 percent or more.

 From a different perspective, founder of the ROI Institute, Jack Phillips, believes HR hasn’t established strong enough connections with or awareness of the organisation to be become a business partner.  While noting ‘tremendous strides in having the head of HR is very knowledgeable of the organisation,’ he also points out that this same knowledge level often is not present in lower levels (line managers).

 The dilemma – HR is concentrated on securing a seat at the boardroom table and influencing business outcomes.  So what are we doing currently as HR practitioners to building engagement with line managers and working together more effectively to achieve their business goals?  Remember, these line managers will become the board members who will decide if HR retains that seat in the next 10-20 years?

In a video from HR Vision TV, it is revealed from a recent survey that well over 60% line managers have rated HR as adding value to the business.  But asked whether HR is in touch with the business, the answer was totally the opposite.  With the devolution of HR functions to line managers, there have been additional workloads, resentment and lack of understanding by line mangers as to why this has happened.  At Marks and Spencer they have identified this gap and have taken the responsibility to embed engagement strategies with line managers to build the partnership.  HR business partners work with line managers in meetings about tactical business decisions about clients.  Line managers only need to have contact one person to obtain advice rather than a gaggle of HR practitioners within the HR Department.  Marks and Spencer involve line managers in embedding HR change processes as it impacts on the business.

Whether you are the head of a multinational corporation, senior HR Director or team leader have you consider building relationships with line managers, as they are our future?

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