HR is all things to all people, and it is rare to find the HR function in two different organisations sharing a common purpose.

Due to a lot of ambiguity about the role, and its resulting low esteem posture, HR has historically – almost willingly – assumed charge of a lot of activities that are not truly within its remit, mainly the things that no-one else wants. In this category, I would include administration of medical insurance, eye care vouchers, car fleets, employee expenses and the Christmas party.

These activities eat up HR time and that’s why the department appears to be permanently firefighting. It’s time to take an objective look at the key tasks that HR should be executing for the organisation.

1. Ensuring full compliance with legislation as well as the organisational ethos

Central to the task is not only to safeguard the organisation against legal infringements in its treatment of the workforce, but that those relations are conducted in accordance with the culture that it wishes to convey.

2. Enabling better recruitment

A constant inflow of talent is necessary to the vitality of the organisation. HR must take responsibility for attracting quality candidates for its vacancies, combining an attractive offer with meaningful selection techniques and a well-executed candidate experience.

3. Enabling better development of the workforce

The role of any organisation or individual manager is to encourage their workforce to optimise their potential. HR should provide the tools and the means to do this, by giving access to programmes aimed at developing greater skills and aptitudes to meet organisational objectives.

4. Advising on appropriate reward structures

Motivated employees don’t have to be paid more than they are worth, irrespective of industry “benchmarking” and salary surveys. Remuneration, including benefits, should be related to the value of the task and its relevance to the organisation and be a reasonable reflection of the jobholder’s aspiration. Fairness and transparency also have a part to play here. HR is well-situated to give input to discussions on how best to carry out a reward strategy.

5. Ensuring accurate management information in real time

Management information is the lifeblood of any management group and can range from showing how much absence in the organisation is costing, strategies to close the gender pay gap and identifying areas where management is failing to engage and retain key employees. It must be accurate, in real time where possible, otherwise, its true value is compromised, and available at any time to those who require it

6. Reducing manual administration of HR matters

Many tasks within the HR orbit have been labour-intensive (creating paper trails, paralysing actions, etc) HR must harness technology to automate most, if not all, of this, and so make more effective use of the time and resources available.

The above are headlines and will vary from case to case, but they do encompass much of what HR should be about.

So when you, as HR manager are asked to take on a new administrative responsibility which is not really in the HR ambit, what should the response be?

Obviously, you should not be defensive or dismissive. First of all, ask for an explanation of how the new activity truly fits under the HR umbrella. Does it complement any of the above headings?

Make sure that you know how departmental activities are allocated; from there you can make an estimate of the time required, and what additional resource will be needed to meet the new case. This could be additional headcount (if this job is currently being done somewhere else, ask how many FTE  – full-time equivalent staff – are currently dedicated to it). It could even mean a new HR system that will enable you to automate and gain time for the department.

Most of the above is leading us to the conclusion that technology, in the form of a modern HR system, is essential. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that it is incumbent on every HR professional to ensure that their employer is equipped with an appropriate system that will provide reporting power, and features like self-service, workflow and automated triggers to reduce paperwork and administration time as well as enable access to management and employees alike to manage their departments and personal records, respectively.

All of my task headings above are impacted and enhanced by good system technology. Make it a starting point in the campaign to keep your HR function relevant and valuable.


David Barnard

Denis Barnard is acknowledged to be a leading expert in the selection of HR & payroll systems, and other HRIS, both inside and outside the UK.

He has been instrumental in leading successful selection and implementation projects in a wide range of sectors, including local government, Higher Education, publishing, music industry and manufacturing.

His recently-published book “Selecting and implementing HR & payroll software has been acclaimed by leading HR practitioners.