A nod to administrative HR (Editorial, Sept. 9, 2002)

In the pursuit of strategic HR, the administrative side of the profession can rightly feel a bit slighted. “Shed the burdensome administrative image,” goes the refrain from many who desire a higher profile for HR.

Being a full partner in the business, with the head of HR part of the senior management team is the profession’s goal. Some have already achieved it, but the majority still work to make it a reality in their organizations. The challenge is to demonstrate to the CEO and the senior team that HR adds value by aligning employees with corporate goals and improving productivity. The problem is too many senior executives can’t see the promise of HR beyond the administrative tasks the department performs.

Shedding this admin image is necessary for the profession’s growth, but it shouldn’t require treating the administrative side as the black sheep of the family everyone wants kept out of sight. The profession’s strategic capabilities will be shown through accomplishments in organizational effectiveness and value-added executive-level planning, not by sweeping administrative HR under the rug.

Why should HR have to forgo pride in the efficient, cost-effective management of personnel data and programs? You never hear chief financial officers protecting their senior status by downplaying the fact employees who process accounts payable cheques report to them.

And administrative HR certainly has a lot to be proud of.

Despite self-serve technology, there will always be a requirement for a human side to employee issues in benefits, pensions and payroll.

Self-serve proponents often mention how getting employees to fill in change of address and other information will free the department’s time for strategic HR. Employees will like many aspects of the self-serve agenda — such as reviewing pension plan investments — but they won’t be sold on the system’s advantages if HR’s goal has more to do with shifting data entry to employees already busy with their own jobs. Benefits, pensions and government forms can be complicated and time consuming, so instead of wasting employees’ intellectual energies on deciphering them, “live” HR staff make everyone’s day easier by assisting.

Administrative HR professionals are also the pool from which strategic leaders will be developed. Unless you intend to keep stealing professionals who specialize in HR’s more strategic and consultative areas, you’ll want a place to nurture those with an aptitude for HR management. Loosing access to this pool is a danger for those who advocate outsourcing administrative HR in the move to focus on the strategic side.

Why do you have to remove HR professionals engaged in administrative duties in order for HR’s strategic and organizational experts to concentrate on their tasks? If the admin people are too distracting perhaps you could put them down the hall or on another floor.

Pursuing strategic HR makes sense — both for the career advancement of practitioners and the improved management capability of the organizations they serve — but let’s not forget that providing superior administrative services is also something to boast about.

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