The Real Purpose of HR
At a recent offsite with a group of highly skilled Human Resources executives, I asked the toughest question of the day: “What is the purpose of HR in a company?”
The silence was deafening.
Then, slowly, as the stunned crowd came back to life, a few muffled answers surfaced. “To hire and fire.” Decent, but shortsighted. “To ensure compliance with employment law.” Not quite. “To recruit top talent.” A partial answer.
None of these executives fully knew what Human Resources departments were designed to do. Why was HR created? What value does it add in an organization? How could we know if the HR department was a good one or a bad one?
This problem is all too common. Some companies choose to outsource HR entirely and just hire contractors until they have to pull HR in-house. Because HR has lost sight of its purpose in modern companies, it becomes ill-defined, often lackadaisical and sometimes ridiculed.
The answer to this malady is to restate and re-instill the purpose of the HR function: To hire, train, motivate and support productive employees. This means that various tasks fall to HR which can be measured. It is not the wishy-washy, touchy-feely area it might seem to be.
HR departments should:
1. Hire good people. Qualified people hired and working can be measured.
2. Train people to do their jobs correctly. People in their roles who are fully trained to do them can also be measured, as can various training modules on the way to full competency.
3. Motivate employees. This means removing barriers to productivity. This can be measured by tracking each employee’s productivity.
4. Support productive employees. This can be measured by compliance with policy and law and by retention.
Most HR departments cover #1 nicely. #2 is often sketchy and only sometimes effective. #3 and #4 are fertile ground for further discussion.
How does one motivate employees? Motivation can be defined as a willingness to do something. Willingness is the greatest tool any person has to accomplish goals. What gets in the way of willingness is too many barriers and too many failed purposes. An effective Human Resources department can remove these barriers for the majority of the company and watch as productivity rises.
Barriers can be conflicts in the workplace, employee relations issues, pay problems, and a host of other possible topics. Human Resources professionals have to be highly trained in handling conflicts and bureaucracy to accomplish this step. If HR isn’t able to track each employee’s productivity, it will be difficult to assess whether barriers have been removed.
Imagine this utopian example. Joe is a Director of Marketing for a major division of a large retail chain. He has been working on a project to increase customer engagement through targeted marketing and has been successful at doing so. Customer engagement in his target market is up 6% over last quarter. His boss, the VP of Marketing, then tells him he is ineffective and that he should stop the project and work on a social media marketing campaign.
In a perfect world, Joe goes to HR and explains the situation. HR sets up a conference with Joe and his boss, bringing the graph showing Joe’s recent success. The confusions are resolved and Joe is returned to his prior project and someone else is put on the social media campaign.
A few key points come from this example. 1. The VP of Marketing should have known Joe was successful. Since he didn’t, it is HR’s job to let them know he is a good employee who should be protected. 2. HR should be skilled in negotiating difficult human interactions, as this one could potentially have been, especially if pressure to do a social media campaign was coming from further up the org chart. 3. No stop or stall in production should result from this problem. HR should act swiftly and accurately to keep production moving. 4. If the VP of Marketing himself is having trouble, HR should note this and help him to remove barriers to his production as well without pushing confusion downward to his team.
The key point here is that Human Resources is the backbone of a productive, happy organization. Why? Because nothing in a company is accomplished without its people. Skilled management of the people and support of their productivity is a vital foundation for the rest of the company. So get your HR department functioning correctly now and reap the rewards down the line.