The sad thing about my profession is that it often gets labelled "the profession that likes to say ‘no’". HR directors get the sad label of being obsessed-with-detail, obstructive, form-filling bureaucrats. Oh, and when things go wrong, the processes take forever.
So how can we maximise the positive impact of HR? Part of the issue is that when HR is working well you often don’t notice it: the HR metrics are good, such as low turnover or a low absence rate; problem-solving happens discreetly; staff smile and might even hum around the office; and people feel better when we are around and don’t notice the frantic paddling under the surface that keep this state of affairs on track.
The first way to maximise HR is that great HR staff know that the bulk of our work is done through other people, so we need to focus on relationships.
The relationships we have to cultivate are with chief executives – and we want to be managed by them – and the senior managers, because they influence other managers and have the biggest teams. I once made the mistake of not trying hard enough with one senior manager in a team – he ignored me and was always too busy for HR. His team had the worst, most persistent and difficult HR issues of all.
The next groups to build relationships with are all managers and, finally, the staff in general, so that they see us, trust us and will come and talk to us at the right time. HR should wander about and take the temperature from time to time.
The second way we maximise our impact is to build up that key relationship: the one with the chief executive. We cannot maximise HR without investment in it. So heaven grant us a chief executive who gets HR, works in partnership with us and backs us within the senior management team. Never surprise the chief executive: they need to know what is going on when stuff is brewing, not when it’s poured out all over the kitchen floor.
The third way we maximise our impact is by really knowing our stuff. We need to know the law and how to implement best practice in all staffing processes. Ideally we should focus on positive HR and wellbeing matters, issues such as staff engagement, great recruitment and inductions, stress management and other wellbeing initiatives. It’s also a good idea to work on coaching managers so they are participating properly in key HR processes and ready if they have to handle a difficult conversation.
Finally, we should keep the HR housekeeping in order, such as by having great up-to-date files, contracts handbook and policies.
Gill Taylor is a sector HR consultant