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Making HR more visible

Tony Glass

Tony Glass, the VP and GM of Skillsoft, highlights how lack of communication between the workforce and HR is negatively impacting on the department, and how to enable human resources to step out from under the cloak of invisibility

Traditionally, the top table is reserved for those departments that are seen to make the largest contributions to the bottom line – something which HR has always had difficulty proving quantitatively.  

But while this situation is beginning to change – Forbes last year argued for the Chief Human Resources Office to take a rightful place at the table – a new alarming trend has appeared, indicating that this same lack of presence is also felt within the wider organisation.   HR knows it is facing several difficult challenges.

Firstly, workers no longer hold to the same attitudes or expectations. This shift considerably affects talent management and, ultimately, staff retention. Many employees are looking for very different rewards and more opportunities than have been traditionally available and as a result often only stay in roles for short periods before making the leap to a new position.

Staff engagement too was particularly low last year, with the UK ranked 18th out of 20 of the world’s most-developed countries, with only 37% of workers revealing they felt encouraged to be innovative and less than half indicating they felt valued by the company.  

The Mysterious World of HR

But these issues aside, arguably the biggest obstacle that HR faces in the coming year is the problem of internal communications or more accurately the lack of.

The latest survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggests HR departments don’t have enough internal visibility within their own organisations.

According to the responses received from participants, opinion is very much divided as to what HR actually does. When asked which functions employees believed HR fulfilled, a large proportion of respondents indicated recruitment, compliance, grievances and disciplinaries. The lesser-associated duties included training, retention, career progression, internal communications and organisational strategy. We could perhaps forgive the last one but many of the latter are functions that are integral to a fully functioning HR department.  

Furthermore, when asked which member of their organisation they thought completed the majority of HR-related work, there was a similar amount of speculation between participants, but the most popular response was a resounding ‘don’t know’.

Now depending upon the size of an organisation, there will be different roles within HR and duties are likely to vary. However, the idea that a quarter of employees might not know to whom they would report with a human resources issue or for assistance in career development is disturbing. It also raises the issue that HR is not doing enough to promote itself – a fact that is confirmed by the admission of 50 per cent of the participants who stated that HR has no noticeable effect upon the performance and wellbeing of the organisation.  

Re-establishing Visibility

Any HR professional will attest to the importance in reinforcing the strategic elements of the business, such as internal communications, recruitment and talent management, and even the overall business strategy.

 A big part of addressing this issue will be in re-evaluating the shared services model which has long been responsible for removing integrated, visible services and placing them in a single remote department, creating additional barriers to communication. 

Another significant contribution will come from the re-integration of HR professionals into the senior leadership team – as opposed to having them consult independently about implementing business strategy, working policy, and training and development initiatives. 

However, for the workforce in general, the key to greater visibility lies with improving the accessibility of professional development pathways for all employees. As has become apparent from several recent surveys, employee engagement increasingly depends upon training and development opportunities and the establishment of a positive work environment.

Unlike the age of the Baby Boomers, HR now has a wealth of tools to assist in this venture. Where in the past HR was required to locate candidates that fit with the company culture and track performance, technology now allows HR professionals to concentrate on creating a better culture and assisting employees in their career path.  It’s certainly going to be a tough ride as the immediate pressures facing HR directors are unlikely to disappear while the necessary changes are made. But once HR has re-established a firm foothold in the business, it can begin to address the virtual and sometimes physical invisibility of the department which has fuelled negative perceptions and barriers to communication within organisations worldwide.

 In order to improve business performance and employee motivation, HR has to once again become an integral and widely recognised function that frequently demonstrates its contribution not only to the business but to every employee. 

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