What does great HR look like?

04 Jun

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      We recently asked the question on LinkedIn: ‘What is great HR?’. It was one of those topics that really gets people talking, generating over 110 responses, a lot of likes and a wide range of opinion.

      A client had asked me to start the discussion as a context setter to an HR team workshop. The problem was, with such a variation in the responses, we couldn’t really determine any clear benchmark. What became apparent was that there are hierarchical differences, as well as differences in geographic and organisational culture, that drive what great HR really is.

      We can categorise the responses into clusters.

      The jokers: People who felt that great HR is an oxymoron – the impossible dream. We can only hope that these are not the current leaders in our field.

      The professionalists: This group talks of meeting employee needs, of being fair and consistent in what others call the ‘transactional grind’ of HR. They focus on the needs of the people in the organisation, and many of them refer to great HR as being a function that protects, advocates or acts as custodians or guardians for the employee. Some also see these principles as being relevant to managers, leaders and the organisation as a whole, but the emphasis is on behaviour and process. Effectiveness is measured by happy faces.

      The strategists: These contributors see the translation of business needs into HR plans as the core essence of great HR. They are focussed on business deliverables rather than employee needs and recognise the value of engagement and enabling in the achievement of business goals and targets. They talk about human capital, not people, refer to themselves as ‘strategic partners’ and want to ‘leverage’ everything. They aren’t able to specifically define what success looks like for HR – but see their own success as a core contributor to overall business success.

      The straddlers: These are the fence sitters. They want to be a ‘professionalist’ in the morning and a ‘strategist’ in the afternoon. They want to drive and deliver a business strategy while still seeing smiling faces and feeling fair all day long, and believe you can only deliver great HR by combining the two.

      Does success define great HR?

      One contributor really caught my interest when she said: “In essence, great HR is not about HR at all. It’s about whether an organisation and its people are ‘successful’ (as defined by those involved). If a company and its people are thriving, you will also find an HR team that is getting it right.

      My own view is that there is absolutely a place for the professionalists and the strategists – both have a really important role to play and add value within their defined scope. But I have always believed these are two very different skill sets with different client groups, inputs, goals and measures of success. Even jokers have a role – to remind us that great HR is a challenging deliverable. We should use their scepticism to remind ourselves of the need to be proactive, to deliver and to talk about our success and our contribution.

      Which category are you comfortable in? Are any of these approaches adding more value than the other? Do they have to operate exclusively, and what skill sets must we evolve to meet the great HR needs of the future?

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      Written by Debbie Palmer, Consultant & Director, Mitchell Palmer Ltd

      Having worked in corporate HR for many years, I have emerged as an independent in world of consulting, passionate about the fact that HR practice can be simple, should treat people like grown ups, and can add great value to a business.

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