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Charlie Duff

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Recession agression – HR managers are getting tougher to demonstrate greater ROI


Tough times call for tough measures and modern HR departments are now finding themselves tasked with delivering rigorous and robust return on investment (ROI), says Jason Willis, Divisional Manager of Reed Human Resources.

As the UK creeps out of recession, senior HR bosses need to possess an additional results-driven skill set. There is an increasing need for HR professionals to display a greater engagement with business objectives, as well as the traditional empathy and empowerment of the workforce.

He argues that October 20 served as a corporate milestone for the UK with the announcement of the Government’s spending review creating an impact that will ripple into the private sector. Whatever the outcome, there is likely to be a down or right-sizing of business and senior HR professionals in both sectors will see their mettle tested.

He says that HR directors need to make sure that their strategies for change management, business re-structuring, development of the talent pool and achieving good ROI, should all be in line with the overall business objectives. At board level they will have to demonstrate to fellow directors their contribution to the business in terms of increased staff retention and reduced personnel costs per head. Strategies for managing complex pensions, salary sacrifice schemes and for managing large fleets of vehicles must all be measured with a hard head and the overall objective of managing down the cost to the business.

These decisions are now the gritty reality for the modern HR director in the brave new world of post recession Britain. The wrong decision can tip the balance unfavourably toward losing good staff who feel undervalued, and the associated cost of not only having to recruit new people, but train them to the level and experience of the personnel that you have just lost. Suddenly the tea and sympathy has had to be replaced by tea and testosterone, Jason Willis argues:

“Like all business functions, HR directors have always been tasked with targets and KPIs, but it has become increasingly evident that there is a greater demand and a greater responsibility being placed upon the HR management to deliver measurable and effective strategies. On the whole, most HR managers and directors welcome this increasing involvement in delivering the company objectives, although it is challenging.”

“In reality, more than any other department, people management does impact upon the bottom line of a business so you can see how this trend for accountability has emerged as we come out of recession,” he adds.

To cap it all, these new skills do not necessarily demand larger salaries to go with the increased responsibilities and the associated stress levels, as managers are often asked to do more for less. However, Willis adds: “In some cases companies that value HR will pay more for professionals with the skills to deliver, design and implement strategy at the highest level.”

The ‘do more with less’ message has galvanised many new HR directors to add to the business bottom line by focussing upon the company’s learning and development strategy and look to bring people on through the ranks, which itself engenders a greater sense of long-term staff loyalty and retention and keeps costs lower as they learn on the job.

Having a clear understanding of the talents, skills, behaviours and competencies of the existing personnel is key to the successful implementation of this strategy. Making sure they are challenged, engaged, developed and promoted according to the contribution they make – especially if they are now part of a depleted or down-sized team because of the recession – ensures that the business delivers success and the HR ROI is realised.

“We are often asked to work with the business to not only find the right HR directors, but also to develop these bespoke talent centres which identify and assess the individuals ready to undertake a faster-track which is all part of this more robust ROI-seeking HR role. It has all come full circle as this was always the traditional HR director’s role: to bring talent through the business and not rely too heavily upon parachuted talent at a cost.”

Reed HR is part of Reed, the largest specialist recruitment agency in the UK.


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Charlie Duff


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