Establish The Human Resource Department's Role

Continuing from last week, the question now is, is the Human Resource (HR) department in this organisation purely an administrative function, existing only to transact with staff as far as typical HR services? Or is the HR department in this organisation a strategic business unit that participates in setting direction, installing infrastructure, implementing projects to drive organisational performance?

When we have that question clearly answered, we will find that the HR function’s placement on the organisational structure enables effective delivery.

You will find that the office is fully resourced, not only with funding and technology (these are just enablers) but with positional power and access to decision makers.  The results will be clearly observed throughout the organisation and easily measured according to the Scorecard. Where we are unclear about the answer to that question, and where, in fact, that question has not been asked, what HR is understood to be in the organisation will be determined by the sheer force of will, or the level of professional drive of whoever sits as HRM. Or Director. And, the results will be based on the attitude of users to that office.

It’s a mouthful. But think about it. As far as the textbook definition, and maybe as far as our benchmarking exercises, any HR official in the organisation can provide a list of activities and various roles that the HR department is supposed to undertake and fulfil. However, it is not always clearly stated what the specific role of the HR department, or function if you prefer, is in the particular organisation. It is not always clearly stated what the level of operation of the department is.

Especially in those organisations where HR evolved out of the portfolio of the PA to the CEO, or the Office Manager, or the Administration Manager, where the services and functions of the department were purely transactional, and then the organisation eventually recruits a professionally qualified and experienced HR practitioner who expects to operate at the strategic level, only to find that there is a degree of misunderstanding and overlap of roles between one department and another.

In this scenario, the HR department cannot expect to make any real and meaningful impact on strategic goals.  Why is this? If we take the question to the very micro level of the individual employee and talk about delivery expectations, we will find that when a person is employed, they are aware of certain basic, often non-negotiable details: what is my job title, what are my reporting relationships, what are the resources at my disposal, what is the code of conduct, what are the deliverables, and, the delivery criteria and standards to meet, what are the decisions I make in this role, and so on.

When we know what role we are recruiting for, it is so much easier to derive a competency based selection tool, and this makes selection that much more objective, scientific, reliable. The candidate steps into the role knowing what is expected, how he will be measured, and what to prioritise.

Curiously, it is not uncommon to find that the HR department as a whole has not defined its role in a way similar to what is described above. You may find that there are those who thought the department would prioritise wellness. Others thought it would be about salary increments and improved benefits. Yet others thought the department would usher in new Conditions of Service. And so on and so forth.

This way, whatever the HR department chooses to focus on is bound to be a disappointment, there is bound to be resistance in quarters, and perceptions of ineptitude.

Because there has not been any clarity provided on what the expectations are, nor would there have been clarity on the suitability criteria of the department staff beyond the usual, ‘a degree in such and such or similar, and so many years in a similar role.’  This approach is counter-intuitive because if we leave it to the incumbent head of department to set the tone, it may or may not be aligned with business goals, it may or may not lead to adequate command of necessary resources to deliver, it may or may not lead to a department led by a team of practitioners whose competency profiles are incongruent with the direction and the level they are expected to be.

It is essential to define at the highest levels, what is the role of the HR department, who is our ideal HRM, what are the specific tasks and decisions that HR will handle?

Who will manage payroll and benefit concerns? Is everything in-house, if not, what is outsourced? A cohesive answer crafted upfront addressing these and other equally pressing questions will eliminate confusion and enable delivery.

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