Why HR People Need to Love People

There’s been quite a bit of chatter (from us included) on how HR professionals need to become more business savvy and financially aware to win the respect of management colleagues.

That’s probably true, but we should also remember what Human Resources is all about. People.

There’s been so much pressure on HR to concentrate on the bottom line that it’s almost become unacceptable for practitioners to even admit they joined the profession because they actually like working with people.

In a recent LinkedIn blog post, HR commentator Jon Ingham expresses concern about this direction of the profession, describing it as: “quite sad, and more than a bit scary.” “We seem to be forgetting the people who make our businesses work. And bizarrely, we’re doing this at just the point at which many of our businesses are starting to get more interested in their people,” he says.

There’s no doubt that HR people, and indeed managers, who like and understand people are much more likely to get better results for their organization. Recent research from Engage for Success, for example, has shown a strong correlation between engaged employees and a highly productive workforce.

So maybe it’s time organizations allowed HR to step away from the balance sheet occasionally and start ‘feeling the love’ for people again? Here’s five reasons why businesses need HR to put people back at the top of their agenda:

They can help speed up the pace of change

We live in an era where organizations are constantly reinventing themselves in response to increased competition or changes in the market. Often, though, the people working for them are happy enough with their current routines. HR practitioners who have high levels of empathy and emotional intelligence can do a huge amount to engage people in change and win their support for whatever it is the business wants them to do differently. If employees see them as the good guys who have the employees’ interests at heart, they will be able to build trust and a more cooperative working environment.

They can help managers do their jobs more effectively

The best HR people are not shut away in their offices poring over spreadsheets. They are out on the front line, getting a real insight into the daily challenges managers and employees face. Managers are often wary of getting HR involved when they come up against obstacles, fearing that they will be overly-bureaucratic and will get in the way of new and innovative ideas about how work can be organized. The truth, however, is that HR has a whole array of tools and techniques at its fingertips to help managers get the best out of their teams. The latest HR software, for example, can do much to streamline processes and reduce the time-consuming administrative tasks that come with managing people. If HR people are able to build close relationships with managers, they can make a huge contribution to discussions about how jobs roles are designed, how work is managed and how managers can maintain a happy and productive workforce.

They can help managers avoid difficult people problems

An over-emphasis on controlling employees through policies and procedures has meant that HR are often seen by both managers and employees as blockers rather than enablers. They get called in as a last resort when a problem arises – often when the situation has reached crisis point and it’s too late to do anything about it. Of course any business has to have rules and ensure it is complying with employment regulations – but if HR is allowed to shift the focus a bit more towards helping people (rather than restricting them) they will be better able to help line managers deal with petty problems (such as poor performance or unacceptable absence levels) before they escalate into major issues. If organizations let HR people fulfill their natural desire to be work with managers, rather than against them, many costly HR processes could be avoided.

They can help drive engagement

HR people have a wealth of tools and techniques at their disposal to help them drive engagement in the business. They can help the organization understand how to use rewards and benefits, for example, to motivate people and encourage them to go the extra mile. Karin Volo of Engage for Success says, “It is engaged employees that creates engaged customers and therefore drive business forward.” HR can work with managers to develop performance management approaches that accentuate the positive and leave people looking forward to – rather than dreading – an annual performance review. They can play a key role in internal communications, making sure that employees feel involved in the business and support its direction of travel. The key to success is to involve HR in strategic business decisions early on – so they can point out the people implications and help develop strategies that build the engagement needed for high performance.

They can help create open, two-way communicating culture

In many organizations, employees are wary of HR, seeing them as puppets of management, rather than people who genuinely want to help them fulfil their potential and have a good experience at work. Most people who work in HR have a natural desire to want to support people and it’s the organizational culture that gets in the way. HR can do much to help encourage an open, two-way communication where people feel free to express their views or raise problematic issues. Some of that is about having the time to walk the building, talk to people and find out what’s on their minds. But the social portals that come with the latest generation HR systems are also a great way to share information about what’s happening and encourage open dialogue between senior management and employees. Of course all this has to start from the top – with open and honest conversations between HR and senior leaders about how to build trust and develop an open, inclusive culture.

What’s your view? Has HR lost its love of people – or should a commercial focus be the priority? Let us know what you think by commenting below or tweet us at @CezanneHR!

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