Why Human Resources Is Important

A brief Google search of business process, management techniques and employee retention rendered literally thousands of pages of information on how to manage one’s workforce. I end up asking myself, why so much is produced. Is there truly a demand for the quantity of choices in the management industry, and particularly all the books and articles dedicated to human resources? I don’t think the volume of pages on this subject reflects a market but rather a desire to find a silver bullet that will ease our personnel troubles and show us a single path towards management success. Professionals within the HR field are hard pressed to sort through all the data, expert opinions and case studies. We try to apply the old rules in slightly different ways hoping to give them new life; and we continue to seek superior results with old school solutions.

HR is typically thought of as a cost center that does not contribute to the bottom line even though they are responsible for hiring and protecting your company’s most important asset-people. Without strong, satisfied and motivated people in place your business will not grow to its potential. The Management Team often view HR as a team of paper pushers who take care of benefits and policies, or are a necessary evil-here to protect the company and limit issues like harassment, lawsuits and push compliance in terms of treatment and policies. The most significant reason this reality exists is because overall industry continues to see HR as a compliance issue. It is a discipline that “asks” to be at the table rather demanding it. It is a discipline that should not spend the time with benefits, payroll and benefits but rather with strategic opportunities.

Human Resources has grown as an industry to include experts in the field of Organizational Development, Change Management, Continuous Process Improvement, as well as those who gain impressive training and enjoy significant tenure in Benefits Administration, Recruiting, Policy Analysis, and Training. Yet more often than not we look for managers with degrees in business administration or MBA’s with a sub specialty in HR or promote people with no experience or background in management at all. The subtle thinking here is that HR continues to be a small subset of core competencies needed to run a company. Our business and the people who drive them are too complex to continue to rely on managers who have simply been promoted within non-management disciplines with employee management tacked on. As industry, all industries, continue to compete for talent, the skills HR professionals bring to the table will represent strategic core competencies, historically known as skills. We have evolved and the language associated with our skills has evolved along with us.

HR is the partner in your business that is the expert on people and human behavior. If they are not, they are the wrong people. Talking about strategy without Human Resources core skills represented at the table is like trying to plan for next year’s budget without this year’s numbers. Metric’s are powerful tools but, as with any kind of measurement, a lack of understanding about their application renders data worthless. Good HR is about observation and analysis behind the scenes, compiling complex data about individual workers as they progress through the workforce.

In a recent study done by the Hay Group “just 40% of employees commended their company on retaining high quality workers. 41% agreed that performance evaluations were fair. 58% rated their job training as favorable. Most said they have few opportunities for advancement-and they didn't know in any case, what was required to move up. Most telling, only half the workers below the manager level believed their companies took a genuine interest in their well-being” (Fast Company, August 2005). What does this really mean? As a manager why do I care about this statistic? Do I think it even applies to me?

The numbers are often scary and the management books talk about solutions that worked really well in the authors companies or consulting projects but what about your company? You have a manager that just doesn’t care. The President knows that turnover is bad but doesn’t ever seem to do anything. Your boss is the Owner’s uncle. Change would be great but it never seems to happen. Where is HR? Are they at the table? HR professionals are confronted with these questions and problems everyday and can build measurable strategies to address turnover, low morale and underperforming employees.

I know it is difficult to measure the tangible results of HR when so much is intangible. The truth is, it is hard because we are not in the habit of evaluating leadership. We are not in the habit of seeing ourselves as a potential barrier to success in our business. Often times HR is marginalized because it’s easier to replace the employee who quits than believe we are getting in our own way.

As HR professionals, we enjoy the luxury of constant process evaluation. Our only product in fact is the process’ we bring to workers. We use this process to inform the group, influence the group and define the culture of the group. Gone are the days where you can roll out a policy or make changes to compensation plans and concern yourselves with simply informing people. The luxury of thinking “workforce” instead of about Bill in operations is gone, yet companies from the very large to the very small continue to believe that people work for the company. People work to meet their own personal goals or because they’ve developed collegial relationships that are meaningful.

We long for loyalty yet don’t completely understand why we don’t have it. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of management techniques to keep the people in our companies productive and happy yet a defining characteristic of the younger workforces is that they expect to have many different jobs. How is it that we find ourselves so dependant on stabilizing our workforce yet see no clear way to meet that objective? The hit we take to the bottom line is significant when we think about the cost associated with recruiting and training new staff. In my own business, if turnover is high, I can’t expect to see my revenue drop by two digit percentages.

As your business is growing and you are evaluating the competencies needed to ensure your business can succeed think twice about who you assign the measurement of employee productivity. Regardless of where you decided those tasks should land be assured that your competition is putting the financial resources towards getting the right person with the right experience in the doors of their company.

Published Friday, December 16, 2005

Bryon Peterson is the President of Human Resources Group International. HRGI is a group of human resources consultants with over 25 years of experience in the field. HRGI provides comprehensive human resources products and services to businesses throughout the United States, and Canada. Its mission is to provide an integrated and highly effective working environment for companies and their employees.

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