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Putting HR at the center

Published: Aug 03, 2013

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There has been the constant complaint by human resources managers that their area is not being given the recognition and attention it should, based on the critical role it is supposed to play in the development of the company, and in keeping it sustainable. HR managers have made the point that they should be at the center of the company’s activities, including involvement in policymaking, and being members of the various boards.

HR has complained that it is often relegated to securing work permits, conducting low-level interviews, and never with formulating and implementing corporate programs, or conducting training among top management officials. It therefore feels it has been assigned menial tasks, and is not performing those strategic functions which impact positively on the company’s performance.

This idea of making HR more strategic to the company’s activities is dealt with in a recent article featured in the magazine HRM Asia titled “Strategic HR”, involving three contributors who are top management professionals in their field. I will now summarize and comment on the ideas of Butch Clas, one of these professionals.

This HR director states that HR itself can be improved, by having an in-depth understanding of the company it works for, being a company and employee advocate for how to make the business successful, and ensuring that good talent in the company gets the challenges and recognition it deserves. These are crucial to the enhancement of the functions of HR. The director further notes that company managers are not seeking “yes” people, but want someone who is competent in their field, and brings valuable know-how, and value to the business through the efficient delivery of services, expert advice and market knowledge on how to solve any issues involving the human talent of the company.

Butch Clas also thinks, that HR should continue to work on the genuine feeling employees hold as a collective for the organization. He feels that the best HR persons have empathy and concern for the employee and the company, and this can be reflected in the role of adviser to a leader, to counsel a promising employee on skill development, or work with HR colleagues to collaborate and learn from each other, and be an effective HR team.

I think that the views put forward here are profound, and right. HR needs to upgrade its functions and its perspectives. It must recognize that it is an integral part of the senior management team of the company, and its activities should reflect this. Understanding the company and its inner workings are critical to designing solutions to problems that may arise.

It also means HR would be able to anticipate any unpleasant issues before they emerge, and plot strategies to deal with them. Understanding the company also means understanding the culture, respecting what works, and what needs to be changed. Surprises will then be minimized, and the competitiveness of the business will be sustained, since talent will be rewarded, and promoted by the HR team. HR will then become even more relevant to organizational success.

HR also needs to speak up on behalf of employers and employees. The tendency has often been to see both groups as being at war with each other, when in fact they complement each other to achieve organizational and individual goals. The needs of both groups have to be taken into account when policies are being formed, and they should be important ingredients in this process.

The company will then really reflect the intentions of both its internal and external customers. And any sense of unease could be dealt with at the source, before blossoming into a crisis. The company and HR will both gain credibility and trust. Being an advocate for its clients will therefore win HR greater respect, and enrich its image and functions.

With this enhanced HR function, competence and know-how will replace the ‘yes person’, and innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship will become the operating values of the company. This means that providing advice and knowledge about the way the market is working, and how it will change, is essential to having an edge on the competition. Service will be more efficiently delivered, on time, within budget, and ensure customer satisfaction. With these new strategies, HR will then be strategically placed at the center of the organization, steering and guiding it towards achieving its objectives, and validating its importance as a result.

Any HR team, to be really effective, needs to be sensitive to the emotions of employees as a group, and step into their shoes to understand how they view the company, the way it is operating, and whether it could do things better and how. Sensitivity to the feelings of employees means showing compassion towards them, dealing with them kindly, and exhibiting a caring disposition. This builds greater understanding and trust, as well as self-confidence, and self-regard on the part of employers and employees.

Sensitivity also involves coaching employees to sharpen and further develop their skills, encouraging the sharing of knowledge and experiences, and working in teams to solve challenges, and find better ways of doing things. Working in a collaborative way reduces errors, and augments the skills of everyone. HR at the center can help to develop and facilitate these strategies.

The point is, then, that any activity, or group of strategies to improve organizational performance, must have HR practitioners at the center. HR can no longer be in the back seat of the organization, or operate as a side show in organizational affairs. It has to be at the center, and forefront, leading, guiding, and directing strategies. It must be adviser in chief to organizational managers, and counselor in chief to other employees. And HR professionals must also have a helicopter view of the organization, and how each area interconnects and influences the other, and what the resulting impact is.

These strategies can only be successfully realized, when HR practitioners are in the driver’s seat. But these practitioners must also be competent, intellectually and academically gifted, entrepreneurial, ethical, and compassionate.


• Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. He holds a M.Ed degree from Dalhousie University in Canada and an MA from the University of London. He is a past permanent secretary in education with the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Published with the permission of caribbeannewsnow.com.


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