HR adds value – but can you demonstrate that? (Toughest HR Question)

HR needs to work on public image, become centre of excellence
By Brian Kreissl
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/04/2013

Question: As a profession, how do we demonstrate that HR adds value?

Answer: That’s a timely question because HR is still being squeezed at many organizations, even five years after the onset of the global financial crisis. And the HR profession is probably more unpopular than it’s ever been in the minds of senior executives, line managers, rank-and-file employees and the general public.

It’s therefore up to us as a profession to set the record straight by explaining our role, doing what we say we’re going to do, listening to what managers and employees are telling us, establishing service levels and providing concrete evidence of the return on investment (ROI) of HR programs.

Negative public image

In spite of our drive to be taken more seriously as a profession and to be more strategic, HR is suffering from a poor public image. Much of that is related to the economy.

Jobseekers blame HR for the fact they can’t get hired or for lengthy recruitment processes. Existing employees blame HR for corporate austerity measures, downsizing and small to non-existent salary increases and bonuses. And senior executives frequently see HR as “overhead” that doesn’t generate revenue or directly impact the bottom line.

There also seems to be a widespread belief among the general public that HR isn’t working on their behalf. Because most people don’t understand HR and feel we should be there to act as a type of counselling service, they’re surprised when we act on an employee complaint — as opposed to simply letting the person vent — or try to hear both sides of a story.

Because we’ve been off-loading tasks to line managers and giving them pushback about work they should be doing — in a sense, asking managers to be managers — many of them question HR’s value.

Paradoxically, moving away from transactional activities can actually cause line managers to question the value of HR even more because they perceive an increase in their own workloads and less HR support.

HR’s success could actually contribute to its downfall because a large part of our mandate is to help build managerial capability. If HR helps managers “take off the training wheels,” it’s conceivable they may think they can do without HR or the function isn’t adding any real value.

Explaining HR’s role

HR’s poor public image can be improved upon by educating managers, executives, employees and the general public about HR’s role and whom we’re ultimately there to serve. We need to be better at tooting our own horn — without publicly declaring our desire to be more strategic or our angst about not having a seat at the table. In other words, actions speak louder than words.

HR professional associations can help raise the profile of HR but it’s also up to individual practitioners to educate colleagues, friends and family about just what HR does beyond hiring, firing and simple record-keeping.

Business leaders need to understand the wide range of business issues HR can help them diagnose and solve, from employee engagement to legal and financial risks. To some extent, the general public needs to know this too, especially given the proliferation of scathing comments about HR on many online forums.

Becoming a centre of excellence

HR needs to speak the language of business in order to help prove its value. That largely means communicating in dollars and cents. Therefore, it is important to provide metrics and establish value for HR programs through ROI and other recognized metrics.

It’s also important for HR to work with managers, employees and other stakeholders to find out what’s keeping them up at night and how HR can help. This can be achieved by contracting with internal clients and establishing service levels and key performance indicators (KPIs) for key HR deliverables.

HR professionals may also need to give some pushback, particularly when they are asked to do something illegal, unethical or which doesn’t comply with recognized best practices.

This is important because HR professionals can also help prove their value by being assertive and standing their ground. No one likes a pushover and senior management won’t respect HR professionals in the long run if they never challenge them in any way.

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

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