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Time for a change? Think proactive HR


YesIn a time of increasing legislation and the widening UK skills gap, is it time for HR to rethink its goals? Paul Norman probes into a time-old tradition of HR being reactive and cries out: it’s time for a revolution and for HR and get proactive.

No-one ever likes to think of themselves as not proactive. It’s the management buzzword of the moment, and of course we are all proactive.

But, away from the emotion of the accusation, it is necessary at times to engage in a really honest evaluation of the activities that fill our day. And the HR function does not escape this need. On occasions omitted from the big discussions about company strategic goals, our day slowly fills itself with dealing with less than perfect dismissals; challenges from employees past and present; misfiring recruitment decisions; and paperwork. Mountains of paperwork. Because paperwork must be evidence of good process, surely?

Now, for a moment, let’s dream a dream together. Of course, these activities are necessary, at times vital. But sometimes, are they not like rushing around with a fire extinguisher? Try to be brave, place the extinguisher down, and locate the source of the fire. Stop one fire being lit. You have now created some space in your world.

“This is about taking back control of the world of HR within your organisation.”

Of course, this is harder than it just sounded in that paragraph. But hard though it is, it is worth it. This is about taking back control of the world of HR within your organisation. It is about choosing what HR is for, what are its outcomes, strategies and objectives. It is about choosing how the resource is used to most value to create something as much as to prevent something.

One of the big challenges facing HR teams is that of education. Pushed on by short-term targets, gaps in their teams and a today culture, not all the management team are ready to appreciate the value of the positive, up-front contribution the HR folks have to offer.

But, there are big gains. By getting involved up front in recruitment, culture setting, staff development, and performance management there can be impact that is measurable. Lower staff churn, fewer legal cases, more motivated teams. These all equal hard pounds sterling right on the bottom line. And they equal a more interesting, proactive and fun role for your HR team.

Is this possible? How can it be achieved? First is the important bit, the bit that cannot be left out. The decision to actually make it happen; to wrestle with resources, thereby ensuring that good intentions do not get swallowed up in the preparation for the next disciplinary appeal. As with so many aspects of corporate life, it is necessary to find the energy to break free from the ‘too busy to change’ mentality.

Gaining the support from others is helpful. The gains for them are huge, but the energy will need to flow from the HR people. Here is where the term ‘proactive’ arises. It is about deciding to change, and making the change happen. Making the change happen requires the vision, the determination, the skill and the energy. Added to which it will require some level of stubborn persistence.

“It is necessary to find the energy to break free from the ‘too busy to change’ mentality.”

Then, time and resource can be put into designing things rather than fixing things. The most obvious example is to start at the beginning. How does your organisation recruit? How does it market vacancies and its career opportunities? How does it assess the candidates? What is the motivator here? Hopefully it is getting the right person, with the right skills, not just to tick the boxes of a process. Process is important, but it should serve your goals, and produce your outcomes. Getting this right will reduce staff churn, reduce legal challenges, reduce false starts, but even more importantly it will increase some things too. It will increase the success of these new recruits! It will increase their contribution to the company. It will increase the profit!

The same thinking could be applied to many other areas of corporate life. How about tackling the company’s training plan? What about the staff appraisal system? Or going more into the world of being proactive, is it time for a root and branch review of your reward packages?

The details of all these things should probably vary from one organisation to another. Each organisation has its own goals, and this will call for different actions from support functions such as HR. But in every organisation, there is a big opportunity from ensuring that the HR teams are able, willing and motivated to step forward to make things happen in a way deliberately chosen to give the result the company wants. Choosing up front what is wanted from the HR function, and then having the teams go out into the affray of the business and make them happen, positively, in a planned way, is a massively better use of the resource than simply issuing them all with extra fire extinguishers.

Of course, this doesn’t only apply to HR, and of course this is not a brand new idea, but surrounded by increasing legislation, and increasing cost of non-compliance, maybe now is an opportune time to rethink the role of HR. To make it positive rather than reactive. There is an opportunity to actively drive excellent practice throughout the organisation, to deliberately do things that improve the organisation. For a motive, you could have the desire to tick the boxes, and to not get caught out. Or, alternatively, you could have the desire to build a better place for people to be, and a better place to make a profit, and a better way of gathering together a group of people who together will achieve the organisation’s goals.

Paul Norman is from Gibside Associates

One Response

  1. Have courage!

    What a refreshingly challenging article! Your comment about being brave, and “putting down the fire extinguisher” resonates.

    HR professionals have a great deal to offer their organisations. We need to market our services within the organisation and seize opportunities to demonstrate the difference that we can make to enhancing business performance.

    Part of being brave also includes the courage to go out to our internal customers to find out what their expectations are and to measure how well we are doing, measured against those expectation. An article titled What Managers Want should be published on HRZone early August, covering this aspect, and the use of an HR Internal Customer Satisfaction survey or HR Audit.


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