Are HR people strategists or service delivery specialists?
June 22, 2010 at 5:43 pm #103631
In the June 2010 issue of Talent Management magazine, columnist Jac Fitz-enz asked this question:“Are HR people strategic thinkers – business planning –
or program administrators – service delivery?”He goes on to say that “two opposing camps formed immediately and kicked off a spirited debate. One group took the side that a number of HR folks were in fact actively trying to apply strategic thinking and planning [but] a small percent have succeeded due to resistance or apathy from top management. The other camp took the position that since HR traditionally has not collected data much past head count, it doesn’t have a base from which to make a case for the business value of planning.”Does this debate exist in government?
June 22, 2010 at 6:17 pm #103649
I’m not sure the debate does…. but it should! HR has a lot to offer and should be offered a seat at the government table. In my experience it seems as though public sector is delivering a service, whereas private sector you have more HR professionals providing the business planning and strategic thinking you are referring to (I miss this aspect, and find it more difficult to accomplish this part of HR in public sector than I did in private sector. Perhaps in the private sector having someone to do more than implement programs, they want their HR professionals to posess these skills – it does all come down to your employer being in business to turn a profit – and HR can assist by hiring and retaining the best workers (via recruitment efforts, benefits, succession planning, etc). It is (and has been) my hope that the public sector follows suit as I know that some government agencies aren’t bringing in revenue, but training, retaining, and succession planning, customer service to emloyees, etc., that HR provides can make the agency successful so why not have HR think strategically!
June 22, 2010 at 7:33 pm #103647
Silly statement really. Is the HR staff in question providing workforce planning information? Are they providing data on retirement eligibility, succession planning, critical occupations, etc.? It’s not up to HR to determine the goals of the agency, that’s leadership’s job. Assuming an agency has decent leadership, they can use HR data to produce business cases for various purposes. Not every burden can fall on the HR staff.
June 22, 2010 at 7:48 pm #103645
@tricia – I completely agree. My sense is that many agencies used to have HR co-located with their agency locations across the country, but are now consolidating functions in 2-3 centers to process HR activities…which does not necessarily include HQ. So with this kind of change, are agency HR professionals just becoming glorified paper pushers vs. true knowledge workers that analyze an agency’s workforce and assist management in making better decisions about future staffing levels?
@Wesley – Here’s what I see happen again and again: people who are technically proficient – at IT, for instance – advance through the ranks of an organization based on a skill set that may or may not be tied to solid leadership skills. So they wake up one day 10 years down the line and have significant supervisory responsibility. They may have had some leadership and management training along the way, but they really don’t have a trained eye (or the time!) to look at current staffing levels, analyze work load/work flow, evaluate potential shifts on the horizon based on retirement projections, make budget adjustments to account for a unique constellation of full-time vs. contract staffing, etc…and rather than having the agency’s HR staff equipped to consult internally, they will outsource the task to a firm that must learn about the agency culture quickly and help them make decisions based on sheer data…vs. really having a grasp of the staffing nuances for that agency. And that creates all kinds of personnel issues that can have a lasting, negative impact on an agency.
June 22, 2010 at 8:41 pm #103643
This does seem to be the case with government – unfortunately. Also, I have noticed a trend in the past 5 or so years (public & private sector) in HR to hire less qualified/knowledgeable HR professionals for mid-level HR positions which contributes to this I suspect. My thoughts are that it boils down to organizations being interested in cost savings. Cutting costs is of a higher importance than looking for a strategic (HR) partner – a certified HR person, or one with considerable knowledge or background typically has years of experience and therefore demands a higher wage. So they post the position with the salary they are willing to pay, and end up with hiring the “next best qualified” HR person who meets some (not all) of the job qualifications. In the end, (savvy organizations) will hire outside consultants to remedy situations (employee relations issues, recruiting, benefits, etc.) which oftentimes occur as a result of this. But they still see the HR cost savings, not considering the additional expense of a consultant. Those non-savvy organizations? They just end up with overworked leadership teams, and more of those paper pushing HR people.
June 22, 2010 at 9:01 pm #103641
I don’t believe that HR should sit around until “leadership” requests them for some reason. HR should be there along side of leadership. Traditionally, the role of the Human Resource professional in many organizations has been to serve as the systematizing, policing arm of executive management. In this role, the HR professional was frequently viewed as a road block by much of the rest of the organization. Over the last 8 to 10 years much of the HR role is transforming itself. The role of the HR manager must parallel the needs of his or her changing organization. Successful organizations are becoming more adaptive, resilient, quick to change direction and customer-centered. The HR professional, who is considered necessary by line managers, is a strategic partner, an employee advocate and a change mentor.
Strategic Partner – contributes to the development of and the accomplishment of the organization-wide business plan and objectives (not just providing reports/information). HR business objectives are established to support the attainment of the overall strategic business plan and objectives. The tactical HR representative is deeply knowledgeable about the design of work systems in which people succeed and contribute. This strategic partnership impacts HR services such as the design of work positions; hiring; reward, recognition and strategic pay; performance development and appraisal systems; career and succession planning; and employee development. Leadership coming up with this on their own? They should be busy doing other things like “leading”.
Employee Advocate – the HR manager plays an integral role in organizational success via his knowledge about and advocacy of people. This advocacy includes expertise in how to create a work environment in which people will choose to be motivated, contributing, and happy. How objective is “leadership” going to be dealing with employee relations issues, etc.? So your saying they should dictate HR’s response. I think they should look to HR for advice and guidance. Leadership sure would be busy coming up with all the guidelines for communication, establishing the organizational culture and climate in which people have the competency, concern and commitment to serve customers well – this would also explain why many private and public entities are so out of touch with their employees! HR provides employee development opportunities, employee assistance programs (leadership should definately stay out of this one — HIPAA/privacy issues), gainsharing and profit-sharing strategies.
Change Champion -HR professionals need to frequently champion change – the change leadership has implemented. He or she also sponsors change in other departments and in work practices. Finally, he helps determine the measures that will tell his organization how well it is succeeding in all of this.
Certainly HR is doing more than pushing papers or pressing a button to run a report with the “answers” – or they most definately should be!
June 22, 2010 at 9:28 pm #103639
I agree that HR gets pigeon-holed into specialities…this seems especially true in Government. In my previous HR manager positions I functioned as a generalist – doing all functions of HR (safety, training, benefits, employee relations, compensation, recruitment, etc.). Most of the positions government offers is in one particular HR discipline. Much more compartmentalized! Heaven forbid someone come to you as an HR professional and ask you a question related to a discipline you’re not responsible for. As an HR manager, I cringe when I hear someone in my department say to an emloyee with a question ” I don’t handle those issues, you need to talk with so-and-so, who’s not in right now”. They might not function as the benefits liaison, but they should be able to provide basic benefit plan information (provider listings, eligibliity requirements, etc.), or at least know where to locate the information. I’ve discovered in government this is not the case. However, as an HR Manager, I do have some authority to effect change! I’ll be the first to tell you, it’s been with resistance! This behavior also goes back to another discussion here on GovLoop in the last week – people also don’t seem to be willing to share their knowledge with others for fear of competition from co-workers.
June 23, 2010 at 12:40 pm #103637
The HR function is evolving. No longer should organizations be reassigning people to HR just because they want to “back seat” them … at least, not if the organization expects to succeed.
Human Resources is far more than the technical administrator for employee programs; unfortunately there remain “hanger-on” incumbents who cling to the ill-conceived notion that their jobs simply involve the need to process, process, process. Technology has freed up the HR department to become much more than a data processing, rule-regulating work center. In today’s market, successful organizations do not employ just the hands of the HR specialist but also their minds.
Analytics are a key aspect in today’s HR profession because organizations (both public & private sector) are challenged to develop and maintain such things as defensible performance metrics, EEO-valid succession plans, effective training programs for adult learners, widely diverse positions that have and can be successfully argued to have comparable-worth between them, and many more. Our litigious employment culture has created this HR evolution so, while attorney’s are expected to defend organizational practices, today’s HR specialists develop and advise senior management about how to achieve their strategic business plans without crossing over the litigious lines that are ever-changing.
Yes, HR may still be asked to administer employee services but there is so much more to today’s HR function. HR specialists also must be strategic thinkers and advisers to senior management about business planning. Business administrators focus on cost/benefit strategies, Finance managers are concerned with cost efficiencies, Attorney’s practice law, and HR specialists focus on employment strategies that keep the organization in line with what can be expected from their most important and least controllable asset, their employees, those who remain the most critical requirement for organizational success.
June 24, 2010 at 1:34 pm #103635
It will come up eventually, so I’ll post the link to this provocative, and now classic, article that set the HR world atwitter…before there was Twitter to be atwitter with: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/97/open_hr.html
My experience with HR across my own government is that one is often staring into the face of what is essentially a numeracy / social-skills divide. There, I’ve said it. What hampers HR from being the strategic thinkers everyone wants at the table is the fact that it attracts a disproportionate number of folks with great people skills but who get fidgety around numbers. Not ALL of them, to be sure, but the majority, and all too often it’s the folks at the top of the chain who are the most fidgety. A big chunk of my time is spent explaining data to people in HR. Keep in mind, that it takes time to rise to the top, and many of these folks are “old school HR” from back when HR was supposed to be about process, pay and benefits, and not about strategy and projections.
June 24, 2010 at 8:35 pm #103633
Dianne Floyd SuttonParticipant
The debate probably does exist in government agencies. But if the HR folks are not both, they will lose out! The HR needs to analyze data from other parts of the agency, look at top managment’s agenda as well as the national agenda as a whole to come up with viable plans that top managment can “buy” into.
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