The human resources (HR) function is defined as a people management function responsible for defining and executing strategies and processes. It’s a discipline that strives to ensure that the right talent is recruited and retained for the right jobs. Management education equips future HR professionals with knowledge and skills for the operational domain comprising talent acquisition, learning and development, labour relations, performance management, compensation and rewards; as well as for the strategic domain comprising HR strategy, organisational design, development, leadership, and culture. In theory, the scope of the HR function includes designing the organisational structure, defining policies and processes, planning manpower, aligning HR strategy to business strategy, creating employee performance systems, implementing organisational change, and managing employee experience and engagement. These activities are not only critical for employees to perform well, but also necessary for organisations to sustain and grow over some time. However, is the HR function able to perform these activities in practice?
To some extent, in some organisations, HR roles are limited to operational activities like coordinating recruitment, onboarding, and separation formalities, holding training programs, rolling out the appraisal process, processing leave applications, and managing social and cultural events. The contribution of the HR function to defining people-related strategies and processes is minimal, if at all. HR can end up being a misunderstood function, and organisations can lose the chance of gaining from HR expertise.
So, what can be a possible solution?
Following are some of the areas of the HR function where organisations can pay attention:
Leadership trust and support: Top leadership can be critical in determining the influence of HR. If the leadership does not believe in the HR capabilities or does not encourage and empower the HR professionals, they cannot make a substantial impact. Besides, leadership needs to be accessible, approachable, open and supportive, to enable HR to move beyond tactical activities.
Authority and power: A large part of the HR function involves networking and collaborating with other departments and line managers. Often, HR professionals do not have sufficient authority or power to facilitate work with colleagues outside their department. Apart from hindering their daily operations, this can also reduce their ability to respond to queries or handle grievances, resulting in poor employee experience.
Responsibilities: HR roles tend to focus on execution, rather than the strategy and design of processes like recruitment, selection, training, performance and appraisal, and compensation. Besides, HR professionals spend considerable time managing administration work. This leads to the loss of prospects for more meaningful involvement, apart from being a waste of talent.
Competence: For any function to perform well, it is imperative to have an optimal number of employees with the right qualifications, skills, and abilities. In some organizations, the HR department is too small to handle people's operations efficiently. Being a cost center, organizations hesitate to invest in the recruitment of HR professionals with relevant credentials, experience, and aptitude.
Accountability and transparency: Employees have little idea about the roles and responsibilities of the HR department, resulting in ambiguity and skepticism. They are uncertain about when and how to approach HR, and whom they should approach in what situations. Lack of accountability can also lead to a casual attitude and general apathy towards employees.
Performance measures: Organisations need to have specific, relevant and comprehensive performance indicators, and incentives for HR professionals, which motivate them to add value and go the extra mile. Ill-defined and unstimulating performance parameters and goals can lead to a poor understanding of the role requirements and little impetus to utilise competencies.
Growth opportunities: To attract, develop and retain competent HR professionals, they need to be provided with a well-defined and promising career path that allows them to create a deep impact as they go up the hierarchical levels. Many times, capable and high-performing professionals quit due to disillusionment with the work, and lack of growth opportunities.
In short, the HR function has the potential to make a much bigger contribution to organisations if a systematic top-down approach is used. This approach would ensure that the HR function not only has the capability, autonomy, and resources, but also the satisfaction, commitment and motivation, to make an effective difference in organisations.