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What should HR be doing?

There are a number of eminent commentators who will list the practices of the best HR leaders and teams. These include both those inside and outside the profession. We all have our different opinions of what makes for successful HR.

Having led many award winning and well-respected HR teams and coached a number of HR teams and directors to success there are eight roles that in my view are of vital importance.
1. Trusted adviser to the board and Chief Executive: If as a HR leader you cannot claim this role there is work to be done. It is by no means impossible to move from being seen as a support service provider rather than a strategic partner but it does take time, effort and decent advice to make this change. This should not be read as becoming the 'yes' man or woman. Respect is built by giving robust advice in the interests of the organisation not swaying with the most forceful board member. Remember if you can’t live with the approaches you agree at the board there is a very easy solution: resign. Never compromise your principles for an easy life, your decisions will come back and bite you on the bum.
2. Chief Executioner: not in the medieval sense, but as well as being a key strategic player, a great HRD will have the ability to execute even the most nebulous of strategies in a way that adds value to the business. Many organisations will complain that their HR department always wants to be involved but then can’t get past the discussion phase. Learning to operationalise strategy takes know how and courage. Seeking advice from those who have been able to do this from a range of sectors is always a good use of time.
3. Champion for people: The people of the organisation are the only differentiator there is between different business’s and the ability to speak up for their needs, their right to develop to the best of their ability in a fair and balanced workplace is critical. Don’t get side tracked by process, policy or the latest fad in HR. The moments that will change the business will be formulated quietly over a cup of tea when people communicate well and involve staff at all levels in finding solutions.
4. Brand protector: Once the employment brand of the organisation has been developed it really is up to HR in collaboration with colleagues in Communications to be its protector. This is not just in a literal sense but in terms of ensuring that the values that support the brand are not compromised. Think how Enron and others that could be mentioned might have benefitted from a HR department that protected the reality of the brand in the way people acted every day irrespective of their seniority.
5. Talent Architect: This means not just looking outside for new and fresh talent but also making sure that each and every one of the current employees are in a position to develop and contribute. It’s a mark of a great organisations when they can create a good balance in recruitment from the outside and promoting from within. The key for HR is understanding what is driving the business and how the skills of the organisation need to change.
6. The heart and conscience of the organisation: Don’t wince, I’m not talking tea and tissues. I am however advising that you need to be the person who keeps perspective about the emotions of the organisation when everything else is all over the place. You will have to be the person who stands up and points out when a decision is unfair to staff, when a bullying senior manager needs to be sacked and when the boss having an affair with a junior member of staff is not on. And yes I have had all of these experiences (and many more I could not out in print to protect the innocent and not so innocent). The point is that these conversations are potentially career limiting but there are ways of managing them to best advantage. And if all else fails leave the organisation. It’s better to keep your principles and go on to fight another day then to cover up wrong doing.
7. Customer Advocate: The best HR teams understand how it feels to stand in the shoes of the people who buy or utilise the services of the organisation. Tapping into the mind of the customer is critical and taking every opportunity to get out there on the front line is really important. Your front line might be on the sales desk in a store, in a hospital ward a classroom or a showroom. What is essential is that you get out there smell it, breathe it in and understand fully what customers love and hate about your firm. Best at this stage to do a little mystery shopping particularly of your telephone systems. A quick bit of investigation may unearth the reasons your customers are leaving you in droves or sending in complaints. Is your so called help line or customer service section really doing what it says on the tin? If they are not, let your board know asap. They need to be in touch with the customer experience as well.
8. Chief Cheerleader: If HR is not the biggest advocate for the company get your coats on and exit left. What we do is attract and keep the best, build the brand of a great place to work, make the organisation as productive as it can be, eradicate wasteful practices etc. etc etc. If you don’t love your organisation with a passion and believe in what you bring to society, the business world and your market place you need another career somewhere else. Be the advocate for your organisation, take pride in your people, support your board and CE and show how HR when delivered well can be one of the most effective areas of the business. Ensure you are performing well in all of the eigth roles and you won’t go far wrong".   
What do you think makes for successful HR? 




 Cathy Butterworth

26-10-11 05:23PM

Firstly, this is a great digestible/bite size newsletter and it was helpful for me to learn the HR Lounge take on the 'maybe coming soon' in terms of potential legislative changes or challenge that would impact on HR.

I enjoyed the list of what makes for successful HR and would add:

1) A high profile focus on productivity/employee outputs which links roles/activities listed.

2) Being an independent and professional adviser (with a 'can do' attitude) to the CE and Board to underscore the occasional requirement to stand firm in the interests both of statutory compliance and upholding organisational values as appropriate.

All the best to all at the HR Lounge.

Cathy Butterworth

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