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HR in the real world

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People management

Anyone who’s ever been responsible for hiring and developing people or managing teams can tell you that HR can be a real challenge. Alyson Pellowe discusses what the rest of the business needs to know about HR.


If business worked in reality the way it works in an ideal world, then HR policies and processes would be neatly aligned with organisational goals, and the HR team would be seen as a vital department, equal to all others.

In this ideal world, there would be a centralised approach to HR, where the only people involved in recruitment and personnel issues would be trained to do so. But, unfortunately, this rarely happens.

HR is not just something that works alongside other departments, but something that affects them. Also, personnel is personal; it’s not just the hiring and firing HR policies that affect other departments, but those involving areas such as time off or training as well.

Therefore, the responsibility for HR falls into the hands of departmental heads who are likely to have had little, if any, relevant training in managing, and maximising the potential of, their teams.

Changing legislation

So what do these managers need to know about HR? Laws around employment are constantly changing, so anyone involved in people management needs to grasp the fundamentals of the legislation and what it covers.

“In an ideal world, there would be a centralised approach to HR, where the only people involved in recruitment and personnel issues would be trained to do so.”

Notice periods, holiday allowances and requirements for redundancy pay all come under the umbrella of vital knowledge. When it comes to equal opportunities, most people are aware that legislation prevents discrimination on the grounds of gender, race or disability. But 2006 brought another addition to the list when protection against age discrimination was brought into law.

If non-HR managers are tempted to stop reading now, for worry of being instructed to clear swathes of time in their diaries to learn all about the legal side of HR, then fear not. Managers only really need to be aware of the fundamentals so alarm bells ring when potential problems or mistakes arise, prompting further action. The finer details can safely be left to legal teams and the HR department, if there is one.

But managing HR is not just governed by the statute book. There are best practices to aim for that are designed to help organisations get the most out of their employees and the investment they have made in them.

Staffing and workforce planning are the best starting point. Recruitment is often a hand-to-mouth process – a vacancy arises and is filled as soon as possible to minimise strain on remaining staff.

But, in the ideal world, recruitment is considered a strategic business function that is aligned to the overall company goals. It is a very costly process: not only is there the outlay for advertising vacancies, there is agency commission to pay and the cost of time taken away to conduct interviews. These expenses, and the many others arising from recruitment, mean it’s essential that the selection decision is the right one.

However, the best-laid recruitment plans can be rendered useless if the interview process isn’t effective. A good interview should be more like a flowing conversation than an interrogation. Strong interviewers will take the time to discuss interesting ideas and information that comes to light while they note down answers to their standard ‘candidate comparison’ questions.

It is also essential to bear in mind that anti-discrimination can affect the interview process in ways that may not be immediately obvious. Common mistakes include asking about marital status, children, or social activities.

Comprehensive induction

Many managers make the mistake of forgetting about HR activities once recruitment is complete. But it is in fact just the start of the process. Once the right person has been hired, managers owe it to that employee, and to themselves, to ensure that their new recruit receives a comprehensive induction to the company, its policies and procedures, and the people they will be working with. That way they truly understand what the company does and what their contribution will be, enabling them to become a productive member of the team.

Once the new recruit has taken up their position, it is vital for mangers to maintain a good relationship with them, and indeed all their colleagues. Relationship management must continue throughout the entire employment life-cycle, from induction, appraisals and performance management, to the eventual exit interview.

An essential element of this management is effective communication; one of the most common causes of de-motivation and lack of engagement with work is that employees don’t know what’s going on and feel nobody in their organisation is listening to them.

“Relationship management must continue throughout the entire employment life-cycle, from induction, appraisals and performance management, to the eventual exit interview.”

For our non-HR manager, the third area of HR best practice they need to be aware of is that of employee rewards. Pay and benefits are not only important factors in recruitment, but also retention. If they get it wrong, companies can soon find that it becomes a de-motivator and a reason for high staff turnover. Reward packages need to be designed to attract and help keep hold of the right calibre of employees.

The last area to be considered is ongoing training. And it is, by no means, the least. Development of employees and talent management ensures the workforce is up to date on new tools and techniques. It helps motivate existing staff while attracting future employees, and makes key assets – people – even more valuable.

There are many great ideas when it comes to HR, but it’s not often practical for businesses to follow them all; they can only realistically manage to incorporate some of these areas into their policies and processes. What is and is not implemented is wholly dependent on an individual company’s requirements.

However, investments made in HR management can enhance an organisation’s value. At the end of the day, people are at the core of a business and successful people management makes for a successful business.


Alyson Pellowe is founder and managing director of People Vision Ltd, a leading provider of cross-industry HR management and development expertise. For more information, please call 0870 241 6383 or email [email protected]

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