In a survey soon to be published, from Cornerstone in partnership with IDC, we can confirm what everyone already knew about the relationship between line managers and HR: whilst the business managers expect HR to be particularly efficient and lean in managing admin processes, HR want to focus on long term issues to gain strategic relevance. One significant difference, as an example, is how line managers expect the payroll process to run seamlessly, whilst HR rather talks about compensation.
The ideal situation is of course a mix of both. This survey shows how HR can gain relevance and support from the business in bringing value add to such issues as recruiting and learning, and which the solving of short term issues (“I have an empty position, I need to train someone urgently”) can foster dialog into long term strategy (“which skills and competencies will be needed in 12 to 24 months? Who within the company could beneficiate from a development plan to fill in future positions?”).
Being efficient at solving short term issues ("present") is what I’d call being a good “politician”: on a regular basis, issues are brought to HR’s attention and solutions need to be found quickly in order to be respected and deemed trustworthy, especially given this is what is expected from HR ! This problem-solving attitude will encourage an ongoing discussion with the business, as line managers will work with HR to define their yearly planning and express more immediate needs. This will also help HR have a better understanding of the entire organisation, as they will be able to talk to every employee in order to ensure the organisations skills mapping is up to date.
On the other hand, HR has to be a futurist as well in order to anticipate unexpected situations and needs. Of course, feedback from the C-suite is necessary, as is an ongoing discussion with other strategic stakeholders (R&D, client-facing positions, but also external contacts such as clients and suppliers). What is the average retention time of employees within the company? If it’s 6 years for example, it means you need to have a 7-year vision when you start working on next year’s planning. Therefore, you need to have a rough understanding of what might occur in such a long period of time in order to anticipate. The entire workforce planning strategy falls under this futurist function. At that stage, you need to think in terms of future competencies and position evolution, and then to correlate this with existing information on employees and new job openings.
All of this seems pretty obvious, and the present and future roles of HR in the organisation seem pretty clear. Yet there is a third dimension to HR, which is the past, or "historian" one. Does this mean HR has to know all of the CEOs since the company was created? Of course not! The question goes back to what is the use of History beyond the intellectual pleasure of increasing one’s knowledge? To keep it simple: history helps to understand a culture and mentality of an organisation. Working in an international environment without having some basic knowledge of different partners culture (and hence, history) can lead to misunderstanding and potential mistakes. This is the same concerning company culture. HR is responsible for the keeping, sharing and moulding of company culture.
There are many ways in which HR can do this. Taking this into account in the recruiting process to ensure someone will “be a good fit” is a typical example. Another one would be to analyse which elements of said culture need to be reinforced (compliance risk awareness, client service driven attitude …) and develop appropriate training to inoculate this behaviour in the culture, starting with management.
HR has a very wide role to play in the company, and often has to juggle between short term needs coming from the business, often with a sense of urgency, with a long-term positioning to help strategic developments. HR shouldn’t forget this 3rd element of culture, as it serves as roots to increase engagement, confidence and pride.
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