Wouldn’t it be lovely if people generally regarded HR as the ‘superstars’ of the business?

Sadly, that’s often not the case, with the profession receiving a serious amount of (often unfair) flak for lacking business nous and taking a reactive rather than proactive approach to its role.

There’s no doubt HR has a serious image problem. Two out of five organisations say their HR operation has a ‘weak’ impact’ on their success.

New research from Deloitte suggests, however, that it’s not quite time to consign HR to the scrap-heap. Its findings show that an effective HR function can have a real impact on the bottom line and can make as much as a 40 per cent difference to performance.

So what makes the difference between an HR function that’s simply jogging along, and one that’s really adding value and helping the business adapt to change, operate at its peak and beat off the competition?

According to the people at Deloitte, HR needs to pay attention to four key principles:

It’s about the business

Business imperatives and insights about the workforce have to guide how HR operates, not the other way around. This means HR having to ‘muscle in’ early on the conversations that are taking place at senior level about where the business is headed. Too often, HR is on the back foot because it only comes to the table when the strategy has been agreed. Getting involved early on means they can provide valuable insights about talent and how best to manage it – or can point out vital skills gaps that might derail plans if not addressed. HR people also need to get more business savvy and make sure they have financial and commercial acumen as well as people-related expertise.

Nimble is key

When HR demonstrates agility and flexibility, it unlocks high business performance throughout the organisation and sets the standard for performance in other functions. Policies and processes are important – but sometimes HR-related stuff gets so bound up in bureaucracy that it gets in the way of moving the business forward. HR people need to become more fleet of foot so they can respond rapidly to changing situations. It’s about seeing what’s coming, being ahead of the game and working with the business to make sure HR processes are not stifling innovation or making it more difficult for line managers to shape and lead their teams in the way they need to.

Beyond the organisation

The importance of industry, social networks, customers, the external market and other stakeholders must be reflected in how HR operates. HR is often criticised for operating in its own little silo and lacking awareness of what’s happening in the world outside. The profession needs to have its antennae constantly attuned to trends in its own market and the wider business world and to be benchmarking itself against best practice in other organisations. Getting connected is also critical to success – not just with peers from within the HR world but also with people from other professions, like finance and marketing for example, who can share ideas and help develop new insights.

The role of technology

Deloitte also stresses the importance of technology that provides line managers and employees with easy to use data and information. HR software for people, absence and performance management, like Cezanne HR, not only takes the pain out of HR admin, freeing up the department’s time to be more strategic, but provides intuitive tools that help everyone to work more productively.

To help HR raise its game in these areas, Deloitte has developed a ‘high impact HR operating model,’ which has been designed to help the profession operate more efficiently, add value, and meet the growing expectations of the business. The model emphasises shifting from ‘transforming HR’ into ‘optimising HR’, bringing the profession closer to the business, turning the team into consultants and advisors, and moving HR skills up to a new level of capability.

What are your thoughts high impact model work for you? Let us know in the comment box below or on our LinkedIn page. We’d be interested to hear your views.

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Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.