What does great HR look like?

At Harwood we pride ourselves in being amongst the best HR professionals in the country. I am afraid to say (maybe controversially) that the HR world, has more average HR professionals than great. I don’t mean this disrespectfully as I have a theory as to why this is the case. And by the way, this isn’t just my opinion. HR has historically had a poor reputation. At senior boards across the world HR is often overlooked as the HR leaders in the business are not seen as being required at that level. I have had the good fortune of working as an HR professional for over 23 years and have also held senior level operational roles, so have had the benefit of seeing things from different perspectives.

Too often my fellow HR professionals, blame those boards for not being people focused, out of touch with modern thinking or are dinosaurs. Whilst I am sure in some cases this is true, in most cases it is not true. Most senior leaders today recognise the importance of people and like to think of themselves as good people managers / leaders (even if in some cases they are not). The reason they don’t see the need for HR to be present at board level, is more based on the fact that the HR professional’s in their business aren’t seen as being able to add commercial value and instead are that team that keeps our employees happy and their “backsides out of the window” when they make the inevitable mistake.

We should also be careful not to confuse the short-term popularity HR gets when there are large scale redundancies to be completed or restructures to navigate. Or indeed, get carried away that various firms have appointed HR to the board because “it’s seen as the right visual move”.

The harsh reality is, that a large section of our HR community are confused as to what HR does and how it should be perceived. Unsurprising really, considering that it’s probably the function in the business that has remarketed itself several times in several years. Is it Personnel, Human Resources, People Operations, People Happiness, Employee Engagement team, people resource team, Employee success team! And many other versions exist! This constant rebranding, only serves to make the function look woolly and too concerned about its true value in the business. This desperate attempt to rebrand to secure its future only results in further scepticism about its true value and confirms that there is genuine debate over the value the function adds, fuelling the already poor view the organisation has for HR.

So, what is my advice? I have given this significant thought throughout my career and have held myself to the following values. I consider that by doing so I have been extremely successful. I suppose the largest piece of evidence I have for this approach, is working from being a regional HR Director in a business through to being appointed the Chief Operations Officer of the same business.

    • 1) Be Commercially aware – This is often said and not understood. Understand your business and how it works. This is critical and when I say understand your business, I mean in detail! Understand how that piece of machinery works; or the process for how that sale is captured; or how that sale progresses through the system to end up on the delivery truck. Understand how the system works and the difficulties employees have with it. Understand the “full picture”. If you don’t understand this then you cannot be an effective HR professional.
    • 2) Be seen- Don’t sit in the office all day away from the manufacturing plant ;or in that regional office rather that the HQ because its closer to home. Be seen in the business regularly. Walk the business and meet and get to know the employees. All of them!
    • 3) Don’t try and over complicate HR legislation – One of my biggest issues with HR! Even the largest HR consultancy’s sell their services based on “risks of tribunal”. Putting fear into line managers with falling foul of HR policy and procedure is poor practice. It is our job to simplify HR and to provide line managers to manage with confidence. Management nervousness creates more issues and claims. Let’s be realistic! Unless somebody acts totally unprofessionally, the real risks at tribunal are pretty low. When you compare the risks to health and safety issues, or a company breaching regulatory rules, they are negligible. Stop acting like the HR police! It is not the way you build a positive commercial reputation.
    • 4) Be efficient and effective – Despite taking the complexity out of HR for your operational managers, doesn’t mean they don’t need you. Actually, what happens is that they get you involved more and earlier in the process. Be there and be efficient. Get things resolved swiftly. Time is Money!!!
    • 5) Be proactive with cost / efficiency savings – Now that you are an expert in the operations in the business, you now need to be the first person to highlight efficiency savings and changes to improve productivity through people. Whether it’s a restructuring programme, re-designing job role, identifying system or process changes then bring them to the table. Not all will be adopted but it’s your job to be the company’s eyes and thinking in this area.
    • 6) Hire the best people and fire problem people fast – Be the Company’s objective eyes with people performance. The very best leaders can have blind spots and as an effective HR leader your relationship with the leadership team will allow you to advise and guide and you will be heard. Then take the lead and help with the process efficiently. You also need to be involved (HR team) in all hiring decisions. If you introduce great people to the organisation, then your reputation will grow.
    • 7) Help Line Managers to manage performance – Don’t overcomplicate things with 20-page appraisal forms, or online systems that take line managers months to complete. Make is simple and effective.
    • 8) Only introduce an HR System if it is really required – Too many HR professionals believe a system is the answer to everything. It’s not! In fact, it can create more problems. They are only as good as the data that is inputted, and they can over complicate processes and cost a load of money. If you get this wrong, it may end your HR career with the company. At best your reputation at a senior level will be damaged.
    • 9) Provide HR Metrics that Matter – Metrics are critical; but present the right metrics. For this you need to understand your company’s culture and where it is in its journey. For example, if you have entered a turnaround business with significant issues, then you may not want to present the employee satisfaction results. The board won’t thank you for presenting the obvious. Prepare stats that will genuinely aid the organisations performance. Always report on headcount metrics. It is your job to manage the headcount levels within budget. Measure turnover figures, these are always helpful as leavers / money and indicate cultural issues. However, avoid measuring misleading facts. A classic example is presenting in house recruitment savings by working out how much you would have spent on external agencies if you didn’t recruit internally. This has no value as it isn’t a true budget saving and simply looks like a function justification exercise.

Anyway, this is a snippet of my guidance for what it’s worth. If you want any help or support with developing your HR career, help with your HR function then please don’t hesitate to contract me. duncan@harwoodhrsolutions.co.uk

Author: Duncan Turner

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