Tuesday, January 24, 2006

HR as the organization's conscience

Participating in training and development programs either as a trainee in the early stages of my business and academic life, or as an instructor when I became more mature and qualified enough to instruct, provided me with an excellent exposure to different cultures. I found out that even when a workshop or a training program had a preset agenda and topics, once the trainees start to interact, the program turns into a very rich cultural and learning experience that ingratiates those of the participants who attended with a spirit to discover new terrains of knowledge.

Therefore, I have always believed that a good instructor will be able to both stimulate and challenge his audience to talk about ‘how’ they would use the knowledge he is giving them when they go back to work rather focusing on seeking as much information as they could have. This application approach is a major step towards ‘learning’. It also draws the line between education and learning. Learning is what organizations should be keen to enhance in their working teams if they wish to get a high return on their investments in training. This brings to the front the issue of selecting the right people to work for us; People who will constitute the intellectual capital of the organization. This particular issue brings to my mind memories of seminars I had attended around the topic of full utilization of human resources.

In the late nineties, I attended a seminar at The Society for Human Resources Managment (SHRM) and its certification institute HRCI discussing the impact of globalization on the future of the Human Resource profession, and the role it plays to help the management prepare their employees accept the facts of the new age and overcome the resistance to change that the international and multinational companies are going to face. The seminar was attended by top management and Human Resources professional representing leading organizations in almost all walks of business.

Most of the senior management speakers blamed the Human Resources in their organizations for the slow reaction to their demands, and their inability to cope with the required changes in both people and systems to become competitive. Consequently, a flood of questions came to my mind about what organizations should do to match their escalating demands of the Human Resources. Certainly, feasible methods to enhance the effectiveness of Human Resources plans are needed, otherwise these plans will amount to nothing but colorful binders that decorate executive shelves, reminding everyone that looks at them of unfulfilled dreams and abandoned targets.

If organizations are really serious in considering people as their best asset and are willing to invest in them by continuously improving their skills and developing new methods to keep them motivated they should treat human resource professionals as full partners in all major strategic decisions relating to employees instead of imposing decisions on them. The old traditional view of Human Resources being a services department whose reason of existence is to oblige other departments by providing them with the services they needed without participating in shaping these kind of services, will have to change into giving the function a more strategic role in shaping the organizational culture of valuing people and their input. The new trend nowadays sees HR as an integrated strategic management system that overlaps with and impacts all other systems in the organization.

If we analyze the three main strategic functions of HR we will notice that they constitute the core business competency of any organization, i.e. helping the organizations Attract good caliber people; develop those people; Maintain them as a qualified strategic asset. Obviously, we are talking about a ‘proactive’ type of HR that is always one step ahead in going out into the market and attract qualified competent people to fill present and future organizational needs, plan to continuously invest in improving their skills and enhancing their competencies, as well as create a challenging, motivating work environment that decreases people turnover and maintains a stable labor-force.

It is essential, therefore, to specify the level and role of HR with an appropriate level of authority to enable the function operate with a reasonable amount of flexibility to ensure both efficiency and effectiveness. There is what I call ‘authority gap’ between HR and the other functions which in many cases cripples the process of fair implementation of even the standard policies and procedures. Bridging this gap will result in more emphasis on the HR systems to be respected by the other organizations functions, and would change the image of looking at HR as an inferior support service, and instill a culture of dealing with HR as an equal to the other functions which will increase the level of harmonious collegiality among all the key players in the organization. This could only be fulfilled through a number of measures, standards, and criteria applied to ensure that essential resources are aligned and qualified management of these resources guaranteed. HR is neither a dumping ground for trouble-makers and unqualified personnel, nor a function that needs minimal resources to render its services. Necessary funds to establish integrated education and training plans, succession and career development, competitive compensation, retirement and pension plans, and recreation activities should be secured. HR authority should also include vetoing other functions decisions that violate the SOPs of the organization. Lacking consistency, the credibility of the whole management team becomes vulnerable.

Allowing HR to periodically conduct opinion surveys should be encouraged. This gives senior management honest indicators of people’s feelings and needs so that decisions are made to fend off problems. In order for HR to be the organization’s conscience, in needs management support for its educated efforts to feel the pulse of the organization. Likewise, in order to maintain the neutrality of that conscience and the departmental balance of power, we need to protect human resources from internal politics and power games that seeps the power out of the Intellectual asset of the organization and kills their creativity and innovation.
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