How HR can improve its PR?

HR folk have been licking their wounds this week after getting a bit of a bad press from their management colleagues.  A KPMG/Economist Intelligence Unit survey said HR people weren’t forward-looking enough, were too immersed in the day-to-day tactical stuff and were failing to add value to the business.

Now there’s a debate to be had about how much of this is ‘perception’ and how much is truth.  But what is certain is that HR people definitely have a PR problem – and even if they are doing the right things, they need to work harder to demonstrate the return on investment of their activities.

The following pointers should help HR people (or those in SMEs with responsibility for HR) perk up their image and ensure they are helping the businesses they work for get fit for the future.

Get business savvy

HR people are often criticised for a general lack of business nous.  Make sure you have a full understanding of the business, the direction it is heading in and the sector trends that will influence the way it operates in the future.   This will help you devise people plans that support the wider business strategy and can help the organisation achieve its growth targets.  It’s important to show you are finance savvy too.  If you can speak to finance people in their own language you are much more likely to gain their support and respect.

Develop an external perspective

Lift your head every now and then and look at what’s happening in the world around you.  Understanding your own industry is vital – but it’s good to know how other sectors are tackling their people issues too.  The Rethinking HR for a Changing World report said finding and keeping top talent would be one of the biggest challenges for HR in the years ahead.  So make sure you keep up to date with the latest approaches to this and other topical HR challenges.  Widen your reading, network outside your sector and try and attend industry conferences and events so you can pick up best practice and benchmark against other organisations.

Get smarter with technology

Many HR people have now switched on to the fact that technology can do much to streamline people processes and free up their time so they can concentrate on the strategic issues.  The technology is continuing to develop apace, however, and there are now sophisticated tools available to help businesses plan ahead as well as manage their day-to-day operations.   The KPMG/EIU report points to data analytics as the ‘next big thing’.  It’s a tool that will help HR provide insightful and predictive information about the workforce of the future – so if you are not already using it, make it your business to get up to speed with the benefits it can bring.

Get closer to the line

Line managers are the people who will be implementing your HR policies and practices and managing employees on the front line.  Having a clear idea of their issues and challenges will help you put together people strategies that can make a real difference to the business.  Talk to line managers about their pain points – the things that are stopping them developing revenue or retaining customers – and develop a joint action plan that’s directly related to the bottom line.  Developing internal alliances will also help you gain kudos with the board.  It will show you have support internally and help you build a network of people who are willing to lobby on your behalf when you’re trying to get senior level buy in to your plans.

Demonstrate potential ROI

Soft HR initiatives are notoriously difficult to evaluate.  It’s a real challenge to prove, for example, how an employee engagement programme has had an impact on productivity and profitability.  Try to establish trust by focusing on activities that are easier to associate with cost. If absences are high, put in place measures to monitor and address them. If retention is an issue, do the research to understand how much it’s costing you and what the underlying causes are.   Make sure you set clear and measurable objectives for everything you do, so you can demonstrate the return on investment as your project progresses. Showing a clear line of sight between your planned intervention and the bottom line will help managers throughout the business understand how HR is adding value.

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  1. HR’s business savvy used to consist of HR accepting its role as an enforcer of policy and protocols — whether they established internally or by government intervention, or both. Much luck law enforcement… So, should we call HR “The Enforcer”? “The Department of No?”

    Or as this article suggests, we should call HR “The Visionary”?

    The introduction of technology has changed how business is accomplished across the board, some areas are — by their own design — slower to change. Technology and an external perspective go hand in hand. However, most HR departments are highly political, which makes an external perspective seen through a filtered lens that may not always be conducive to change. The unwritten policy of politics in many HR departments has to be forsaken and replaced with an external perspective and technology.

    Given that the numbers for off-site working, mobile availability, and the latest BOYD are on the rise logarithmically, HR (and the legal system) will find itself being outpaced — and probably out-gunned — without making some changes now. This includes not only working harder, but working smarter. And by working harder, I don’t mean working more hours — productivity drops for everyone after a certain number of hours. Working harder would mean to start being innovative more often.

    Innovation always demonstrates a good potential ROI — as long as the innovation is effective, then efficient. I have seen many innovative ways that were very efficient, but hardly effective. People have to feel good doing their work and making them work harder to get the same results is not very effective.

    But change usually only comes after a fiasco — or a change in command. So the question remains — should HR be called “The Enforcer” or “The Visionary”?

  2. I think the first thing to do is stop thinking that it is difficult to prove that HR initiatives can have an effect on the bottom line and start actively and willingly building business cases as a matter of course to support the projects you want to implement. There is so much research out there about the impact of engagement on business performance, that continuing to talk about business cases as being problematic simply doesn’t convince the rest of the management team that HR is business savvy, as you put it.

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