When it comes to HR, is your company fooling itself?

If your company is not great at HR, put your hand up. Maybe then you’ll be able to improve things.

We often hear companies say that people are their ‘most important asset’.

If this is really true, it makes sense that Human Resources (HR) professionals should sit at the heart of their organisations. Certainly they would seem best-equipped to help companies attract, retain and inspire the talent they need.

If people really are so important, HR professionals should be forward-looking, strategic partners who command the respect of senior management (opens a new window).

When it comes to the importance of employees as an asset, are companies just talking a good game?

But there’s little evidence to suggest HR regularly plays such a role. A far-reaching paper, A blueprint for HR: Now and in the future (opens a new window), published late in 2016, actually suggested that many established HR policies and processes are becoming increasingly irrelevant to businesses’ future needs.

So when it comes to the importance of employees as an asset – and by implication the importance of HR – are companies just talking a good game?

Let’s be honest

Ideally HR professionals should be ‘change agents’, as David Ulrich’s model  (opens a new window)puts it. If they’re not, however, it’s better that their company drops the pretence.

If an HR department actually lies in the ‘administrative expert’ realm, it’s far better that HR and the wider company acknowledges this. HR and the C-Suite are then clear about HR’s function and importance, and HR initiatives are more likely to be practicable. And, if the inclination then arises, there’s a solid and well-understood foundation on which to grow more expansive HR programmes.

A misalignment between what a company says, and what it can really do, will limit the effectiveness of its HR interventions.

But if an HR department is broadly in the ‘administrative expert’ space but fancies itself as a ‘change agent’ – and tells this to itself and everybody else who cares to listen – problems will often arise.

Bad behaviour

A misalignment between what a company says and what it can really do – and really wants to do – will limit the effectiveness of its HR interventions.

We see this a lot, for example, with wellness programmes. Despite wellness programmes being a key focus for many HR departments, they often end up as a series of bitty, disconnected ‘fruit-on-a-Friday’ measures that make little difference to underlying employee behaviour. The effort falls on stony ground.

As a result, staff can suffer from false hope and then disappointment as such HR interventions prove to be misguided, unfeasible and end up being aborted. More strategically, it also becomes harder for an HR department to grow its influence because the company will not have accepted there’s any problem to address.

Culture change

So how can companies close the gap between corporate rhetoric and HR reality?

First, companies need to be clear about their key business objectives.

Second, they should establish a clear alignment between their business objectives and HR’s objectives.

Third, they should ensure that any HR interventions are congruent with the the wider business objectives and HR objectives.

Fourth, companies must continually review and, where necessary, evolve their HR interventions. Effective HR interventions take time, and will need to be changed as wider business circumstances change. Honesty will greatly help this process.

For more information, please contact Mike Tyler on:

Tel: +44 (0)20 7933 2773 | Email: Mike.Tyler@uk.lockton.com (opens a new window)