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What management want: Raising the contribution of HR

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Raising the contributionOutsourcing of HR is a topic that is likely to feature increasingly as the economic climate gets tougher. Can you justify the existence of your HR department? Can you show your contribution? Can you raise your contribution? Harvey Bennett has some answers.


In the film What Women Want, Mel Gibson plays the part of a male-chauvinistic businessman who, as a result of an accident in the bathtub where he electrocutes himself with a hairdryer, is granted the gift of mind-reading to understand what women want. At first, Gibson finds himself learning all sorts of things he didn’t want to know, but then he realises how this can be used to his advantage.

It is a constant theme we hear from HR professionals about not having the level of influence that is felt is deserved. But in order to be influential we need to understand ‘what management want’…..and fortunately we don’t need to have an accident in the bath to achieve this. Survey tools are a much less painful way of gaining this knowledge and understanding.

To raise their influence, HR professionals need to pursue four themes for developing the HR function:

  • Education

  • Measurement

  • Delivery

  • Internal PR

Education

There are at least two aspects to this theme. The first aspect is around whether or not the management team understand exactly what it is that HR can offer. How does HR support the business to deliver its business strategy and operational plans, rather than simply the transactional elements?

“HR professionals are equipped, through their training, to have a broad range of tools in their skills portfolio, which can be applied to improving business performance.”

HR professionals are equipped, through their training, to have a broad range of tools in their skills portfolio, which can be applied to improving business performance. However, do the internal customers of HR actually know what these tools are? If they don’t know, then they are unlikely to call upon you for your support.

The second aspect is around whether the HR practitioner knows enough about the business and its range of activities. This is needed for building a rapport with operational management so as to become both a credible and effective business partner.

Measurement

Management appreciates and uses data. If a business activity is measured, then it can be managed and justified. So, do you measure your HR business support activities? Are your measurements based on the expectations of the internal customers who use (and pay for) your services? Do you know what they want from HR: not just what you currently provide but also the services that you potentially could provide?

Businesses request feedback from customers as part of their product development and performance improvement activities. Why shouldn’t HR do exactly the same thing with its internal customers, using a well-designed feedback survey questionnaire to gauge customer satisfaction? A questionnaire can also be an educational tool, informing managers on what is on offer from HR through the range of questions being asked.

Internal customer satisfaction is important. A salutary lesson can be drawn from Dartford Borough Council which recently announced the outsourcing of its HR function. This was triggered by feedback from managers that they were dissatisfied with their service offering.

Your survey should give you feedback about the importance that your clients attach to the various service offerings, as well as feedback about their current level of satisfaction. You can then prioritise where improvements need to be made, and identify the development activities required for the HR team so they meet client’s demands, i.e. the delivery of relevant, quality HR services.

Then, after your audit survey has been completed and you have reviewed the development actions that need to take place, you need to provide some feedback to your internal customers about what your intentions are. They have a vested interest.

Often a survey will reveal some ‘quick fix’ actions that can be taken. Even if they are not regarded as critically important in the grand scheme of things, do them anyway and tell people that you have done them. It reassures survey respondents that their time and effort has resulted in action.

Delivery

What is delivered is the crux of the matter for management. There are number of aspects that need to be considered here.
The HR professional, having undertaken a thorough academic course of studies though the CIPD, will undoubtedly have an excellent grounding in the range of tools and techniques for supporting the business.

However, having the technical knowledge is not enough. The HR professional needs the influencing and (internal) consultancy skills to build business relationships and to work as a business partner who clearly understands ‘the business of the business’.

“The HR professional needs the influencing and (internal) consultancy skills to build business relationships.”

Not all HR practitioners have the desire to be business partners and, furthermore, not all of them have the skills to perform that role effectively.

The set of business partnering competences is easy to define in behavioural terms, and it is critical that feedback is sought from internal customers on the business partnering aspect of HR performance – maybe face-to-face, or perhaps via a 360-degree feedback survey. This feedback would be additional to a review of the outcomes of specific projects, and whether or not what was planned was actually achieved.

Valuable lessons for HR can be learned from the delivery process: not just what was achieved, but how it was achieved.

Internal PR

It is said that success breeds success, and this is true in HR. Satisfied customers are great advocates. PR is not just about grabbing the headlines; it is a great way of educating your internal client base and marketing the services of HR by showing what has and can be achieved. If there’s a special story to be told, then entering for awards that provide external recognition of your achievement is a great way of getting kudos for your organisation, for your internal customer and for you.

So, in summary:

  • Take every opportunity to educate your internal clients about what the HR function offers

  • Seek feedback from them about what it is that they want, the importance that they attach to the range of potential service offerings, and how well these are delivered at present

  • Take action so that you deliver to their expectations

  • Communicate widely what you are doing and how you are contributing.

And finally, don’t just survey once. Repeat your surveys at regular intervals. After all, the economic environment changes and what is important and needed now may not be what is needed next year.


For further advice or practical support on this topic, please contact Harvey Bennett, FCIPD, HR and OD consultant and a specialist in survey/feedback tools at 360 is us Ltd, on 01202 240148 or email [email protected]

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