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Don’t Replace Your HR Department. Refocus It.


Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on on January 17, 2017.

(March 24, 2017) – If you work in human resources, you’ve likely already heard the chatter about whether our value justifies our existence. It’s nothing new — many believe that HR should be replaced or consumed by other business functions.

I, for one, disagree with fundamentally altering the role of HR in business. Rather, I would offer an alternative — to refocus and re-energize your HR investment. It’s time to evolve how we think about HR services and discuss how we can maximize the effectiveness of our greatest assets: our people.

Don’t Replace Your HR Department. Refocus It. 

For an organization of any kind to effectively function, a clear division of duties must exist. The right people need to be doing the jobs for which they are best suited. But nowhere in business is the division of duties more convoluted and misguided than in HR. I have seen many HR departments assigned strictly administrative duties and never given the chance to take on more strategic initiatives that truly impact the organization’s business outcomes.

If you believe that people are a company’s greatest asset, then it would stand to reason that HR’s main focus should be developing and managing talent acquisition, onboarding and engagement.

So What Does HR Of The Future Look Like?

How organizations manage their human capital will determine their success. Much of this comes down to how HR departments are deployed to serve the people’s needs. Who organizations hire, how they effectively onboard hires, how they develop employees, and to what extent they engage them will determine whether organizations are successful in activating and reaping the rewards of a truly engaged workforce. Organizations that leverage HR departments effectively will prevail over organizations adopting more traditional HR department approaches.

To establish a strategic HR department, poised to effectively leverage your organization’s human capital, consider the following as a blueprint:

• Strip all administrative duties from HR. Assign payroll, benefits, recordkeeping, EEO-1, and other similar tasks to accounting and/or finance. Accounting and finance teams are equipped to handle these types of administrative functions and will be able to provide the necessary level of support and execution. This provides HR margin to take on more strategic people-related activities.

• Assign internal communication responsibilities to marketing. Marketing teams are already experts at communicating with external audiences. Adding internal responsibilities should not be a significant burden and will alleviate HR from having to be trained on class communication strategies and operations. Furthermore, this gives but one more opportunity for other areas of the business to have skin in the game when it comes to employee engagement.

Now it’s time to focus on what duties remain for your HR team:

1. Recruiting. Talent acquisition is a function that should be centralized, not distributed, to the business. It’s among the most important things a business (not just HR) can do to strengthen a team. Invest in sourcers and recruiters, and treat the acquisition of employees like you would other sales generation efforts. Have sourcers build and cultivate talent pipelines. Then, task recruiters with articulating the value proposition being offered and work in a timely manner to “close” prospects.

2. Onboarding. Execute an onboarding strategy that stresses culture, not just administrative functions like new hire paperwork, policies, etc. I have seen too many companies “onboard” employees by having them complete multiple pages of paperwork, never once speaking of the company’s culture and how the new hire will assimilate into it. Focus on what is important to ensure the employee is onboarded effectively and efficiently. Have onboarding be an extension to the recruiting process. Speak about what makes your company’s culture special and the role(s) the new hire will play to further enhance the workplace. At the same time, discuss what behaviors are not acceptable and what would be considered counter to your culture.

3. Talent management. A key driver that impacts employee engagement is whether employees feel like they are being developed and prepared for new roles and tasks. Employee development doesn’t just happen without intentionality and someone owning the function. Included in this cadre of responsibilities would be performance management, management training, leadership development, mentoring programs and affinity groups.

4. Employee engagement. This fourth function is not only the most neglected but arguably the most important. It is the proverbial glue that brings everything together. I interact with a variety of different companies looking to deepen their employee’s engagement; companies that make the employee engagement function a priority reap dramatically more benefits than those that ignored or under-invest in employee engagement. Conduct an annual engagement benchmark survey and follow up with quarterly pulse surveys. Once areas of engagement opportunity are identified, HR should work to implement engagement strategies aimed at enhancing those engagement scores. This is referred to as a “measure and improve” strategy and one that is becoming more common among the most strategic businesses.

HR doesn’t need to be replaced. Its role in business does, however, need constant reassessment, retooling, and refocus — just like all others areas of your business, for that matter. By divesting HR of some administrative tasks and refocusing it on more strategic opportunities like recruiting, onboarding, talent management, and engagement, your HR team can be valued as an effective and strategic business partner, and your employees can get the attention and support worthy of your most valued assets.

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