Critical factors to improve effectiveness and performance of HR functioning

It seems to be a no-brainer that Human Resources (HR) as a function holds a pivotal position in any organisation. However it still is seen as needing to justify its importance, which is quite surprising. Employees seem to see HR as a dummy group (a pain sometimes), while CEOs seem to consider HR as a back-office function. Given this unique pressure from major players in the organisation, I think significant seven factors can play a critical role in transforming this narrow view of HR.

i) Automate rote tasks: There is a clear sign for HR to get out of the traditional service and transaction mindset and give off those roles to automation. It has been around for some time, but the extent of its usage and success make this a straightforward factor to improve effectiveness and improve perception. Many organisation are already making use of technology (eg. mobile apps) to respond to HR process queries, act as first line information filter and also give tips for better employee engagement to leaders. Automation would not take away anything from the HR function, but allow it to focus better on changing the perception of HR and the contribution it makes to drive the organisation by aligning better with the business needs.

ii) Aligning with the needs of the business: To move away from the transactional level of just executing what the business asks of them in terms of people counts. By being active in understanding the goals and needs of the business, the function needs to foresee future human resources needs, be it in terms of hiring, competencies, cultural shifts, training and development, and employer branding. By having capable and committed leaders in HR, who can move a step further and actually contribute to the direction the business takes, the HR function’s performance will explode.

iii) Groom HR leaders: While being busy growing the functional departments’ leaders in the organisation, the focus on grooming the next HR leader is missed out. The management has to pick the right person for a CHRO role, who has the capability to grow the next HR leader. This task is made easier by availability of the certified HR professionals in the labour market. These professionals are already trained and/or have proven capabilities starting from rudimentary people processes to being strategic business partners. Having HR as a strategic business partner is a very critical factor to not be seen as a separate unit.

iv) Eradicate “Us” versus “Them”: The HR leader and the other CxOs need to work in tandem to understand that HR is no longer a back-office unit, those processes are already offloaded to technology. HR is a strategic business partner in the organisation’s journey to achieve what it was meant to be. Only by realising and making the different units see HR as a part of their own units, can the narrow, negative perception of HR disappear. One way for that to easily be realised at the grass roots level is for HR people to be seen at the workplace of the various units.

v) Work at the Gemba: The negative perception against HR is a critical factor affecting the performance of the function towards the organisation’s growth. The removal of the feeling of HR people as “them” will go a big way in generating the feeling of oneness and thereby allow for support of the function’s tasks. If the perception amongst functional unit employees is that HR sits somewhere else in air-conditioned offices while they work hard in difficult environments, then a negative and simplistic view of HR will pervade the workplace. HR function needs to be everywhere where there are the organisation’s people. It cannot remain isolated from the core operations of the company. That will be the undoing of the HR function. There are plenty of ideas and best practices shared on models which work for different types of industries, which need to be leveraged by HR.

vi) Engage with research: There is a lot of interest in academia on human behaviour and how organisations potentially can achieve better engagement with their employees. Very few HR functions seem to leverage on these knowledge bases. By allowing for engaging with researchers and trying to experiment with better ways to keep employees happy, achieve company goals, attract better employees and develop them to become great future leaders, HR would be able to perform its role better and move to a strategic role. Much of the good research out there is not tapped. There needs to be conscious efforts to stop running on the treadmill, and slow down to engage with something that could be a new and improved way of improving people operations. One simple way to achieve this is to hire HR talent from those colleges that innovate in both HR related research and impart those to their students.

vii) Mentor future HR talent supply: HR functions can go further in ensuring that they hire the right kind of talent by entering into long term relationships with colleges that produce HR specialised graduates. They need to improvise beyond the regular summer internships (regular 2 month programs in B-schools), and convert to engaging more with future HR professionals. Start the process by identifying colleges that provide development of practitioner-relevant skills and competencies, provide external validation like global certifications in HR; Identify the company’s business needs of the future and take mentorship of select students through their HR education. This can be further strengthened through longer internship programs and then finally hiring them on as HR professionals ready to tackle the company’s business problems from the people’s front.

Some of these seven are internal factors which are completely within the purview of the company, whilst some are more driven by external factors. These factors are not rocket science, and neither virgin ideas, however putting them together in a concerted manner to get HR a seat at the table is what will make it different!

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Srinivasan Tatachari
Srini has a combined work experience of around 20 years in industry and academia. He is a BE (Electronics & Telecommunication Engg) top ranker from Bombay University. He worked in various capacities in Wipro, starting from customer support roles in Mumbai to hands-on software development to software Project lead in Bengaluru working with multiple teams and clients.