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What does HR do well?

Recognizing HR professionals for a job well done

By Brian Kreissl

We’ve probably all heard most of the criticisms frequently leveled at HR, both from those internal and external to the profession. My last blog post focused on some of those criticisms — both real and perceived — and what HR practitioners can do to overcome such negative stereotypes.

This time, however, I’m going to focus on what HR professionals generally do very well. This is especially important given a trend I discussed in my last post — the tendency for HR practitioners to sometimes be unduly negative.

It’s time we as HR practitioners gave ourselves a well-deserved pat on the back for a job well done. Therefore I’ve listed a few things I believe we’re generally pretty good at.

Verbal and written communications

Because HR is all about people, it’s vital to communicate regularly and effectively with managers, employees and other stakeholders. Certainly, many HR professionals I’ve worked with had highly effective verbal and written communications skills.

Some people whose roles are more technical in nature — or who may be more introverted than the typical HR practitioner — occasionally interpret this to mean HR spends far too much time talking and not enough time actually working. But I don’t see HR’s comfort with speaking — or writing for that matter — as a bad thing. 

While part of that strength in communications may be due to the fact many people in HR have liberal arts educations, it also stems from their experience developing employee communications, which by nature are quite sensitive, requiring tact and diplomacy.

Many HR practitioners also spend a fair bit of time facilitating training sessions, conducting workshops and explaining sensitive information in person and over the phone. Naturally, that gives them a lot of practice honing communications skills.

Training and facilitation

Not all trainers and facilitators are HR practitioners by profession. Some are teachers, professors, management consultants or salespeople — or they’re pure corporate trainers without any true HR background. Yet, I’ve met plenty HR generalists who were just as comfortable and effective in front of a classroom as anyone.

Even if they aren’t delivering formal training programs, HR people are often great facilitators. They get a lot of practice running workshops, coaching employees, preparing and delivering presentations and communicating organizational information to large groups.

Balancing organizational priorities with individual employee needs

A few months ago, I mentioned how HR practitioners sometimes have conflicting views about whom we’re ultimately there to serve — the organization or its employees. While that’s obviously true, in the vast majority of situations HR professionals have little problem wearing multiple hats and serving more than one master.

It impresses me how many HR folks have little trouble serving their organizations most of the time, but also deciding when it’s time to “switch sides” and think from an employee’s perspective. In many cases, that ability benefits the organization because an astute HR practitioner’s ability to spot potential problems at the earliest stages frequently saves her employer from legal and financial liability or increased employee costs in the form of turnover, disengagement and bad publicity.

Leading and managing organizational change

No one understands the human aspects of organizational change better than a seasoned HR professional. Changing an organization’s culture is daunting, but whether change is required because of a merger, acquisition, reorganization, financial difficulties, technological advancement or changes in business practices, HR is usually up to the challenge.

While the decision to implement strategic organizational change usually comes from the very top and is frequently sponsored by an executive in the line, HR is normally there to champion, drive, communicate and effect the change — albeit frequently with the help of change agents elsewhere in the organization.

Recruiting, selecting talent

Ask someone from outside the profession what HR practitioners actually do, and the first answer that comes to mind usually has something to do with recruitment. While we might like to move beyond the stereotype that we’re solely involved in hiring, firing and recordkeeping, there’s no denying HR adds tremendous value to the recruitment process.

Whether it’s providing interviewing expertise, coaching hiring managers, watching out for legal pitfalls, helping to ensure a fit with organizational norms, culture and values, assessing skills and competencies, or simply saving the hiring manager’s time by screening resumes and shortlisting candidates, HR in most organizations still has a major role to play in recruiting and selecting talent.

I’d be interested in hearing from readers. What else do you feel HR professionals are particularly good at?

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at brian.kreissl@thomsonreuters.com. For more information, visit www.consultcarswell.com.

Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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