What is HR?

What is HR? This is a question that I have been asked so many times by those curious about the profession. Even those with some experience of the function are sometimes unaware of what it really offers. Let me offer my view of the function, having been immersed in HR for many years and have witnessed many different companies’ departments and working practices.

At an organisational level Human Resources is the department who have responsibility for devising and implementing strategies and policies relating to the management of individuals or employees.

On a more tactical level, HR professionals proactively get involved in:

  • Managing talent within the business; in other words ensuring the best people are hired, ensuring talented employees are fulfilled and have a career path, ensuring people’s broad talents are maximised.
  • Managing the development of the employees; ensuring they receive the correct induction and training as well as continuous learning as their careers evolve. At senior levels being a coach for the company leadership.
  • Managing people’s reward; people like to be paid so the company has to offer and provide an attractive and competitive salary, incentives and benefits package. The complex but routine process of payroll management is also vital.
  • Managing employee disputes. This could be negotiating with unions on a national scale or facilitating disciplinary or grievance action at a local level. Employee relations work will involve a good working knowledge of employment law.
  • Managing change. Advising on restructures, organisational designs and working processes.
  • Writing policies and procedures for all working practices including managing international mobility.
  • At all levels being a confidante to the internal population you have responsibility for.
  • Working with the HR Information System, which is an essential source of management information.

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So, lots of technical areas to get involved in. HR has a privileged position of having access to all areas of the business. Credibility therefore is a must.

There was a time when HR, or Personnel as it was called, was there as a reactive service, often offering what was colloquially called ‘tea and sympathy’. Through the last 10 years or so HR has evolved beyond recognition to become a recognised Business Partner function. Business Partnering means just that – partnering your commercial colleagues in matters of people management. This is not however in a reactive way- this is proactive opportunity spotting, finding commercial solutions to people issues.

Being just a ‘people person’ no longer cuts it – the HR competencies as I define them for 2012 and beyond are as follows:

Commercial Acumen – Understanding business/competitors/the market, financial aspects and contributing to broader strategy.

Consultancy Skills – Listening, questioning, challenging and advising. Project management and being solutions led. Being able to delegate transactional work.

Relationships/Stakeholder Management – Being customer focused. Clarity about who the real stakeholders are; why and how are you building relationships with them?

Proactivity, Strategic and Pre-emptive – Spotting opportunities and acting upon them.

External Focus – Networking. What is the competition doing? Benchmark your activities and bring fresh perspectives to the business.

Innovation – When was the last time you suggested a new way of doing things? Creativity is the key to future impact and success.

Persuasion/Influence – Convince me that you can really turn someone’s mind around!

Delivery/Outputs and Measurement – Delivery focus, performance improvement. Demonstrate and measure your success – show a real Return on Investment to your customers.

Courageous Conviction – Passionately believe in what you are doing. Have the courage of your convictions to ensure HR will add tangible value to the business.

Change Management – Understand the key drivers for change and live the above competencies and you will naturally drive change and progress.

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