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HR: Creating a credible function

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Taking steps towards a credible functionJan Hills discusses how it is time for HR to take steps to make the overall HR function credible – not just individual HR people – and gives practical tips on what to do and what to avoid.


There are endless depressing reports about how senior managers and CEOs say that HR is not credible. However, talk to a business unit head, or even the CEO, and many will tell you that their HR business partner is incredibly valuable but that the rest of the HR function is a problem. So the question is, if the individuals in many instances are already credible how do you create an HR function that has credibility as a whole?

First, it is important for HR people to understand what credibility actually is, since it’s a word that is used an awful lot in terms of HR but which can be confusing in terms of how it translates practically. In a nutshell, credibility is when other people within the business recognise that your contribution is helping them to achieve their goals or what they understand to be the business’ goals.

“HR business partners are often in a better position to communicate about their activity because they have a clearer line of sight to the business.”

Often, HR is already doing what needs to be done, but this isn’t recognised by the business because HR activity isn’t being communicated effectively, in a way that the business understands. HR business partners are often in a better position to communicate about their activity because they have a clearer line of sight to the business; so one of the challenges for HR as a whole, is to create that line of sight, especially if you work in a part of HR that is hidden from view much of the time; then you need to put the effort in to create that visibility in your area.

There are many good people working within HR and most people give their best individually, but HR also needs to give its best collectively. The activities that are needed to begin to create credibility for HR will vary from function to function (for example, shared service centres might need to make a different effort to an HR business partner) however, there are some common things that can be done across any HR department to instantly help shine a more favourable (and therefore credible) light.

Maybe one of the key things to focus on is that the HR department will only be credible if every touch point that the client has with HR is also credible. This sounds harsh and difficult to do but it is the reality. Think about your own experience of dealing with service organisations; if you have a poor experience in one area you are likely to assume the experience in other areas will be equally poor. So credibility starts with individuals.

The following tick list will help HR to identify where the team (or individuals within that team) might be able to increase how credible they are:

  • Do we understand the business goals?

  • Do we understand what the implications of the business goals are for HR activity?

  • Has HR activity been re-prioritised to meet the goals?

  • Alongside understanding what the goals are, does each part of HR understand how to help its part of the business to meet those goals?

  • Has HR communicated to its clients how it is helping the business to meet its goals?

  • Is your area communicating the progress of its activities to its client base and to other parts of the HR function?

  • Does HR have common measures that are transparent for different functions within HR? And is it reviewing those measures and taking actions as a result of them?

  • Does the wider business identify with those measures?

  • Are the results of HR’s measurements also being communicated carefully to the business?

As you will hopefully now see, a large part of being credible comes not from changing what you are doing, but changing how the business perceives what you are doing. Do they understand your tactics and why they are good for them? Put simply it’s all about marketing; about marketing yourself as an individual, marketing your function and its activities, and above all, marketing HR as a whole.

“If HR wants to strive forward then it really is time to stand up and be counted.”

That might sound pretty simple on the surface, but the fact is that HR people are often reluctant to frame things in such a way that they communicate effectively what they’ve achieved for the business. Or to put it another way, HR has never been very good at blowing its own trumpet.

When working with an external supplier, if they failed to communicate clearly what they were doing and how it was achieving the goals of a project you wouldn’t be happy with their work – so why do we think of it as okay for HR to hide its light under a bushel? If HR wants to strive forward then it really is time to stand up and be counted, and if the whole concept of marketing is unpalatable, try thinking of it as educating or communicating with clients.

It is also important, to remember that a marketing campaign is only as good as its product – you need to be brutally honest with yourself about how credible you actually are and about how much you contribute to the business. There are some pitfalls that are all too easy to fall into, but by avoiding them it will help to give you the confidence to communicate your successes:

  • Avoid burying your head in the sand when an initiative or project isn’t working – it’s better to tackle the problem head on and focus your attention on something that will achieve results

  • Don’t embark on a piece of work unless you are clear about the identifiable business need for the project

  • Steer clear of ‘pet projects’ for yourself and other members of your team

  • Don’t do things without telling people why you have done them (and make sure you know the reason yourself!)

  • It’s always best when introducing an initiative or project to make sure that the business believes in the idea beforehand.

Ultimately gaining credibility is about making sure that the business buys into what you are doing. And you can do this by understanding the objectives of the business, developing your ideas in response, and then communicating what you are doing, why you are doing it and how it will benefit the business. HRs goal should now be to increase the visibility of its work to the business and never ever shy away from shouting about success.


Jan Hills is director of HR with Guts and partner in Orion Partners.

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