HR or Human Resources is often frequently misunderstood and underappreciated within businesses. How do you educate and maximise the effectiveness of HR? First you need to understand it’s role as it relates to you and the rest of the business.
- HR’s Role
- HR’s Primary Challenges
- Repetition vs. Creativity in HR
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“HR is used to describe both the people who work for a company or organization and the department responsible for managing resources related to employees.
The term human resources was first coined in the 1960s when the value of labor relations began to garner attention and when notions such as motivation, organizational behavior, and selection assessments began to take shape.”
Let us start in the coldest of terms.
What is an asset?
“An asset is a resource with economic value that an individual, corporation or country owns or controls with the expectation that it will provide a future benefit. Assets are reported on a company’s balance sheet and are bought or created to increase a firm’s value or benefit the firm’s operations.“
So if a business has assets they need to be looked after so that they don’t degrade, are stolen or become ineffective.
How are assets managed by a business?
The building in which you work is looked after by the Infrastructure department. Whereas the computers and servers which provide tools for most office based workers is looked after by the IT or Information Technology department. New software, Intellectual Property or patents are often carefully guarded by Security, Research & Development (R&D), Projects and other departments.
In financial terms often the most expensive assets are people and what they bring to the business and it’s only right there’s a department to look after them.
People are not assets
No they are not and furthermore they’re not owned by the business.
People are far more complex than an asset but do share some similarities when viewed from the financial side of the business.
Of all the measurements in any business, fiscal views are the easiest to generate metrics on. Given that salaries are a large cost, HR is often best set to report on and deliver this info
- Recruitment & staffing
- Compensation &benefits
- Training, learning & development
- Industrial &employee relations
- Organisation development
So what does HR do?
HR is just a named group of people who describe a collective group effort to look after the human assets of the business where their tasks may include:
- Managing recruitment, candidate selection, and promotion
- Developing and overseeing employee benefits and wellness programs
- Mental health development as well as physical health programs
- Developing, promoting, and enforcing policies
- Employee career development and job training
- Delivering orientation for new staff
- Supporting disciplinary actions
- Industrial relations challenges
- Serving as a primary contact for health and safety
The machine analogy
A machine in a factory makes chocolate bars every day which creates products which bring in the money to the business.
The machine has an operator to keep an eye on it and keep it working. An operator ensures the machine has the appropriate raw materials it needs to operate.
The machine needs a mechanic to work on it however the mechanic can’t work on the machine all day every day or else it wouldn’t be productive. At the same time, if the mechanic doesn’t provide enough attention then the equipment could stop working.
HR are the human mechanics. This very simplistic view can help managers and directors (the operators) better understand the incredible challenges faced by a HR department. People are the machine which is the most important money making aspect of your business which are supported by HR to help keep them going.
HR’s primary challenges
People are not machines
A machine is expected to react in a specific way every time.
One definition of machine is “an apparatus using mechanical power and having several parts, each with a definite function and together performing a particular task.”
Humans can perform machine tasks and machines can perform human tasks. Humans are more effective at some tasks whilst machines are more effective at others. With the advent of modern technologies using machines instead of humans has business benefits speaking in general.
What technology currently doesn’t provide well is creativity.
Understanding motivation is a challenge of HR and managers equally to identify and address.
Using the machine analogy again, the mechanic (HR) can provide advice to the operator (manager) on how to better use the machine (the staff member).
The mechanic can help the operator with advice on how to keep it running and even provide basic running repairs.
You still need a mechanic for when the machine needs help.
Repetition vs. Creativity
Some roles are extremely repetitive in nature whereas some roles require creative thinking.
A creative thinking person is a very different person to a person who prefers repetitive non-thinking work resulting in the manager having to deal with people in different ways.
Creativity often requires people to make decisions on behalf of the business. This involves free choice. Not every person would choose the same choice in every situation which can lead to conflict. The more “open” the decision the harder it is to be objective and get everyone to agree.
As Malcolm McDowell said “You’ve always got to work with the best if you can, and of course, the best are the best because they’re different. They expect certain standards, and they’re usually very difficult people to work with.”
The primary department responsible for communication is the Marketing department.
Marketing have the communications pyramid to consider. There is a considerable overlap when HR is responsible for communicating to all the staff as well.
Legal requirements also mean that HR must work seamlessly with Marketing and Operations to keep staff up to date on their entitlements and situations from around the business.
Communication in action
Let’s go back to the chocolate machine analogy for a moment to set up a scenario.
The operator is busy and has targets to hit.
The machine is dragging and will not hit its planned quota.
The mechanic comes along to help. If that machine isn’t performing as the operator wants it to, the mechanic advises DO NOT hit it with a hammer. That will make things worse. We need to work together to figure out how to improve performance.
Marketing comes down to visit at the same time. The business is changing the chocolate bar to toffee bars as it’ll help the sales effort. Time to reset the machine.
How do you stop the operator hitting the machine? Whats involved in getting the machine to deliver the results of all interested parties?
The right message, in the right way, coordinated without disturbing operations is such a difficult balancing act to strive towards.
Repetition vs. Creativity in HR
The repetitive stuff
Some aspects of HR are repetitive. If you business plans it right, HR can take away mundane tasks from other other departments, therefore leaving them to focus on what they need to deliver.
The employee life cycle can look as follows. Hire, Require, Inspire, Admire and Retire.
Wherever there is repetitive stuff to do, why not let a machine do it?
It is possible to use software just do the heavy lifting of the repetitive HR tasks. In this way you free up your HR people to focus on creative tasks.
What is repetitive in HR?
At this point I need to go back to the machine analogy again.
Being able to keep all the machines on the factory floor running smoothly requires metrics. Metrics are unambiguous, not emotive or biased and objective going for them.
A good solution can provide metrics to both groups and for the repetitive tasks here are some tool suggestions. I have personally implemented these solutions before, where these tools provide metrics to both groups.
- Employee Self-Service (ESS)
- Operational reporting and real-time dashboards
- Quality Assurance
- Training and career development automation
- Gamification support
- Noticeboard and communications tools
- Recruitment and skills management
- Compensation and benefit management
The creative stuff
If IT have the capacity to optimise the business they can make computers go faster, fix errors before they become issues and improve the longevity of the effectiveness of the machines.
As you can easily get computers to provide stats and objective information it’s second nature to IT departments to consider optimisation. If and only if your HR department has capacity and is given objective metrics can they seek to optimise operations.
In the following video notice how the solution requires business metrics and communication which enables HR.