The human resources (HR) function is in the midst of great change and there are experts providing advice on every aspect of this change, often providing conflicting ideas, all of which are proclaimed to be the Holy Grail. So, where does the overloaded HR manager turn for clear, actionable advice? Well, help maybe closer than we realise.
Learn from all
Let us look at two of the biggest aspects that are changing: the way the function works and the impact it has on the larger organisation it is a part of. It is helpful to have insight on what works and what is worth spending time and effort on. For a HR function keen on succeeding, some of the best help available is within the firm. Seeking learning from other functions within the organisation is an advantage since issues of culture, management priorities in terms of information needs, communication styles and imperatives are common and thus, addressed with priority. So, what can HR learn from other functions in the organisation and how exactly can this be managed in smaller organisations where functions are often combined? Read on.
The Big Idea: A few decades ago, the finance function also underwent a sea of change, which resulted in the emergence of “operational” accounts and a more strategic “finance” function. Perhaps, the HR function can borrow some ideas from this concept.
A few decades ago, the finance function also underwent a sea of change, which resulted in the emergence of “operational” accounts and a more strategic “finance” function. Since the change in HR is mostly driven by the need to be more strategic in impact, there is a lot of learning to be had from the finance function. The metrics and analysis that finance does on a regular basis is the single most important import needed into HR. The underlying change needed is the attitude to let numbers do the talking and enabling numbers to tell stories that traditionally words are used for, or at the very least, let numbers support the story told.
For this to work, data capture templates, processes and tools must be created wherever possible. While it is common knowledge that measures such as profitability per employee, training spend per team are derived from financial metrics, there are deeper learnings available. For example, financial analysts regularly use predictive techniques to estimate cash flow, funds usage and stock trends. This is now being applied to the compensation area to predict what salaries will be in the future, to arrive at scientifically supported estimates of employee costs in different markets at different times. The applications of this kind of analysis range from budgeting and cost predictions. This is often critical input when businesses move to a new location.
From the sales and marketing function, there are two important lessons to be learnt. One is that the full impact of what HR does will be felt when it is communicated and the value, highlighted. The second is to not underestimate the value of packaging and presentation in an age when the first impression is critical to engagement and commitment. For example, many organisations now engage the marketing team in designing and standardising internal communications as well, especially from the HR function. This is a logical next step when HR thinks of employees and other functions within the firm as clients and thus, to be recognised as having a choice. While external clients will move to another vendor, employees will disengage and in extreme cases, move away.
The production line has taught HR to relook at process efficiencies and understand processes in terms of workflow, dependencies and critical paths. Let us look at the recruitment process as an example. A simplified set of tasks comprising this could be post advertisement, vet resumes, set up interviews and make an offer. Applying the “production” mind to it would mean a flow of steps covering resources required at each stage- who has responsibility for each step, what the dependencies are for each step and so on. Processes that occur before (manpower planning, budget approval etc.) and after this process (induction and onboarding, performance goal setting etc.) will also be considered. Adopting parts or all of this approach will integrate HR and help clients have a seamless experience with the function; this will force planning and scenarios analysis in a comprehensive and multi-faceted way.
In simple words, the information technology function teaches all of us, not just HR, that the time, money or resource spent on a process, tool or solution mean nothing if it is not working and that user experience is paramount. It further teaches us that the language HR uses to talk about its work may be meaningless to “outsiders”. Non-HR people want to hear people speak English and not HR-speak. Also, internal processes are irrelevant, deliverables are key. In short, a client orientation vis-à-vis employees and the organisation.
In small or young organisations, this cross-functional learning is usually easier because the teams are usually more closely knit and are also in closer communication. Also, leadership of functions is often combined and thus, transfer of learning across functions happens more smoothly and without deliberate planning. However, as organisations grow in size and complexity, it is a process that needs to be consciously managed and the transfer of learning from across functions will help HR integrate the best practices across the organisation. This, in Einstein’s words, will be like seeing farther because we stand on the shoulders of giants.