Get back to basics and get the job done: saving HR credibility
18 February 2009 8:28am
Successfully linking an HR strategy to the company's bottom line hinges on managers "getting the basics right", and understanding that much of what makes a business run well "is a lot more mundane than grand theories", according to Barclays PLC's HR director, Cathy Turner.
Much of the "science", she says, seems to be rich in content. However, there is often a disconnect between the theories within the science and viable strategies that will benefit the company.
The theories, she says, are usually "platitudinous aspirations with no solid foundation".
"If you [operate] at the theoretical level only, you often build a bureaucracy, usually owned by HR, that is quite divorced from what internal clients are telling HR they need if they are to serve customers brilliantly," Turner says.
"A major risk in HR is that we become seduced by the theory alone and forget that the primary reason the company employs us is to enable business leaders to run their businesses better."
HR managers must adhere to the "fundamental law of business", she says. That is, providing a "service of demonstrable value to customers if you expect them to continue to do business with you".
To do this, she says, HR departments must assemble teams with:
intellect - "There is a wide misconception that HR is just common sense and anybody can do it," Turner says. "But HR is very technical, so you need good mental acuity to excel in this field."
Barclays PLC recruits HR staff with measurable skills in employment law, talent management or recruitment.
"The technically minded can contribute something real to the business and can communicate effectively with our senior managers," she says.
"If they are going to be truly credible, our HR people need to develop a commanding knowledge of the overall business, the customer base, and the products";
relationship management capability - much of what HR does involves serving others within the business, and "great service means instinctively and constantly asking, 'How can I help you?' and following up with strong service delivery".
"You need to interpret the human dynamics within the organisation and be sensitive to what is affecting people, always thinking what you could do to help and protect them";
high standards - HR must always be looking to improve and develop talent with the same alacrity as other segments within the business.
"This means not accepting second best and always seeking to raise the standard of our work."
Executives in the senior leadership group should also be held to account.
"[Barclays PLC is] committed to realising a performance culture, which means that continuous superior performance is required year after year," Turner says.
"Individuals are under constant assessment. This is not a cosy club, and there is zero tolerance for anything other than meeting our standard";
a talent-capture policy - "HR needs to be ready to move quickly to capture talent when it becomes available from market dislocations or competitor underperformance"; and
risk management skills - "When I consider the diverse aspects of the HR arena... and the extent to which our core activities of hiring and motivating employees are impacted by external regulations and internal controls, it becomes clear very quickly that managing risk and being in control is at the heart of HR," Turner says.
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