In my last 12 years in the HR industry I have never seen a boardroom door with a notice that says ”No dogs or HR people allowed”. Yet whenever I go to conferences or speak to people in the industry I still hear the continuous bleating from most:
- The business does not listen to me.
- The managers just do what they want.
- I am excluded from all the “important” meetings.
- I am sucked into an admin and transactional reactive rat race.
- When will our profession be recognised? I studied for many years and look where I find myself!
In these statements we should search the hard truth.
The business will become ready to listen when you meet them where they’re at.
It has become generally accepted that HR specialists are starting to describe themselves as consultants or business partners on people related issues to line managers. The status of partner is by no means a simple one. It requires the HR professional to have clear understanding about the business and being able to discuss it with line management using the correct terms and terminology ensuring that you hear them before you ask to be heard.
Within a couple of months, you, the HR business partner, must know how the business makes money, what the future strategy is, how the business processes integrate and what work needs to be done in the organisation to mention just a few. Ask about the people issues Line Management experience day to day, talk to a few of the staff, and get to know them by finding out how they are doing at work. Never forget to ask – and what do staff, and the business need you to pay attention to?
Managers will do what they think is right so help them to think about the right things.
Naively I always believe that people will do the right thing; that is until I experience the opposite first hand? Although this seldom happens, it is true for line management and staff alike. People respond from the context they have and what they believe to be the truth or the most important between specific choices.
So what is the context of line management? Unless they have been trained to understand and practice the fundamentals of management and leadership they only have their sum of life experiences thus far. This can often be more than enough to give them some savvy or even enables them to do an awesome job, some have a natural instinct around people, but others have to be helped, especially those deep specialists that land in line functions just to get ahead.
So, what are the people tools in business? Are we confusing people talk and HR talk? Do we truly understand our role in business? Other than the snazzy title of business partner.
I think we are missing the plot by starting off with statements like: People are the heart of our business. If you do not understand what that actually means, frankly – it may be better to keep quiet. Staff will know when “talk” is just mumbo jumbo – even more so if it comes from an HR person if the business itself has not got the basics on people management practice in place.
People are employed to do work. Simple and clean cut. Work is judged by output and performance. Output is enabled by competence and reward is the pay-off. This can be seen as the basic fundamental requirement of people practice in business. The business must be clear on:
- The work that has to be done first.
- Then, how the business will judge performance.
- Then, the levels of competence required to do the work at the level of required performance.
- Also ensuring the appropriate resources like work tools, information and the general work environment is in place.
- And building supportive relationships amongst colleagues and management.
- But be sure to build fair, flexible and affordable reward methods that help the business to get enough bang for their buck and leave people feeling that it is fair trade and not a one sided relationship.
- Possible advancement and development opportunity that exist in the business.
- Be prepared to let staff go if they can contribute better somewhere else and have outgrown the business.
Business practices about staff reflecting fundamentals like these will exist if people are truly the heart of a business. Conversations on these fundamentals must become the basis of people talk. Why it is that financial talk is good, and people talk is made off as HR talk?
Managing decisions on human capital investment implies making the right choices at the right time on people spend – deciding the probability of financial loss or the probability of financial return. This required information rich environment is what line management need as context to make better decisions and inform them about what the right thing to do is. We as the experts must build these bridges of understanding and application for our business managers.
Bringing valuable information and asking the right questions is your ticket to the game.
The value chain of HR is not about recruitment, or performance management or development of staff. These are all relevant HR transactions or at most these reflect a transactional people practice life cycle.
The development of appropriate HR practice (starting with those mentioned earlier), managing efficient and effective process delivery and utilising technology to enable it, ultimately, producing consistent, trustworthy information for line management as context during decision making or HR to consult on is the real way for HR to give value.
HR asking questions about measured performance, pay or competency gaps, staffing levels and SLA management or staff movement and structuring, all within business strategic and planning context will buy more than a ticket – it gets you a permanent seat.
Not having a value chain in place, not owning it (at least partly) and not managing it or not having the skills to do so is not an excuse. HR this is your job. If you are not doing this – then HR can be outsourced. The business will not even notice the difference.
Being proactive on people issues implies being prepared and getting the opportunity to apply it – the latter happens by itself. The first takes hard work and courage to do the right thing.
Establishing the HR value chain is about being prepared but sounds deceivingly simple. Know this… real HR is not for sissies:
- Establishing the basic people focussed business practices takes time and commitment. It is not a glamorous job. It is not really about writing a policy, although this is not a bad start. But rather about building the work profiles, agreeing the performance goals, building the objectives, agreeing targets, integrating competencies, designing reward, sourcing assessment and training and so on.
- You must be a good HR technician – the order of events is key in making the ingredients work, but you must also be a good negotiator and a brilliant trainer.
- Delivery of basic HR transactions like recruitment, performance management, development, payroll etc. is about being a good process manager, a legal, tax and financial expert. Sorting out the bottle necks and bringing down the error rates all falls in the ambit of process management and ultimately HR.
- Making the right choices about enabling technology means having some knowledge about IT and working with the CIO to make the right choices for you. Outsourcing this choice is not an option. So, some knowledge of more than MS word and Excel is required.
- Building people dashboards, developing forecast models and building information rich HR practices like succession plans and talent grids is what everybody seems to be busy with. Understandably so but important to remember that a house is just as solid as the foundations it is built on.
- Now for the worst, setting up the environment is easier than maintaining. Assuming you have the skill, maintaining the value chain and selling people practice governance as if it is General Accepted Accounting Practice is no mean task! There are some tips of the trade but in essence selling what is non-negotiable is about selling what is negotiable and showing real value. Some aspirin helps but slowly growing credibility and delivering on what you promised to do is a winning game plan.
If you are still here, congratulations! You should be prepared. Sometimes one must fly by night as business crises loom. Remember though that the above takes time, commitment and budget. Not completing this humungous task implies that you are never truly prepared for the opportunities to become proactive or making the strategic contribution you can make.
Oh yes, and by the way – professionalism is nothing about a legal right for recognition but much more about what you can do, have done and will be asked to do. The fundamental delivery of HR on their job is what will give us professional status. This is after all the age of knowledge, the age of people and the role they play in making good businesses great. Are you ready?
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