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Excerpt--Human Resource Essentials

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2010, 275 pages, Paperback

ISBN: 978-1-58644-196-8

SHRMStore #: 61.16501-2


The human resource (HR) profession has changed dramatically over the past several years from the days when HR departments were referred to as “personnel departments.” In those days, personnel practitioners were relegated primarily to “pushing paper” and handling administrative burdens but were seldom involved in the truly strategic elements of what we call “human resource management” today.

Many organizations continue to consider human resources a function that covers compensation and salary administration, hiring and firing, training, safety and security, and employee facilities. Frequently, HR professionals are expected — perhaps even encouraged — to be reactive rather than proactive in their response to HR issues.

For example, employees involved in recruitment activities respond to job requests and are supposed to find applicants who meet the needs of managers. But HR staff may not be expected to determine whether the job specifications are valid. Likewise, a compensation analyst waits for a situation to surface and then applies a rule. In industrial relations, the emphasis is on waiting until someone has an issue to resolve. The thrust of contract negotiations is to avoid getting trapped into concessions. When the contract is drawn, the emphasis is again on applying rules. Situations are dealt with after they arise, in reaction to the demands and actions of others.

However, change is occurring. More than ever before, organizations are being forced to consider the very real value of their human resources. And more than ever before, organizations are turning to their HR staff members for strategic help. No longer charged with simply processing payroll, increasing numbers of HR professionals are being asked to be business partners along with other strategic planners in their organizations.

These changes, while good for the profession, also present challenges. In 2000, then-president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Michael R. Losey, SPHR, said

“The biggest problem that I see is the low barriers of entry into the HR profession. By ‘low barriers,’ I mean this: CEOs too often assign the important task of HR management to someone who has little or no background in the field, based on their assumption that ‘anyone can do HR.’ As we know, HR is a profession, with a body of knowledge. You can’t ‘do HR’ with an empty head. We have too many people in the field who give us a bum rap. They are a great risk. The future — and even the present — demands higher degrees of competency.”

Almost a decade later, corporate and HR thought leader Jack Welch had virtually the same advice during his keynote presentation at SHRM’s 61st Annual Conference & Exposition: For HR professionals to be taken seriously by CEOs and other senior leaders, they have to deliver, he said. “Get out of the picnics/ birthdays/ insurance form business” and instead take action that makes a difference, he said to loud applause. “Nobody wants to see some crazy cheerleader in there while [the organization is] leaking.” The recession, of course, was top of mind as 2009 drew to a close: “The one thing you have to do in a time like this [is] to communicate like hell … so your people know every move that’s going on,” Welch added, and understand the actions the organization is taking, “because everyone is scared.”

Many HR professionals have entered the profession from the ground up. The value of a broad understanding of an organization cannot be minimized. But HR professionals are challenged to ensure that the HR role is visible and credible — and that they enjoy a strategic relationship with the organization’s leaders.

Successful implementation of an HR function requires following a defined course based on HR standards, overall management objectives, and company strategies. Despite the stated management objectives, the HR function must start with the basics, such as successful recruiting, performance appraisals, and corrective action. Strategic planning, projections, analysis, and organizational change come only after the basic areas are established and operational. Between these two extremes are the usual HR activities, which may include training and orientation, staffing and control of labor costs, automating processes, career development, and cross-functional processes such as quality teams and self-directed work teams. Where to start and how fast to act depend on the company’s circumstances and the availability of resources.

The rapidly growing availability of technology and the Internet presents HR professionals with both opportunities and challenges. Technology can significantly improve productivity by automating what used to be labor-intensive processes. The Internet and the many emerging social media tools allow access to people from literally around the globe, but these tools take time to learn and manage and raise new questions about appropriate and inappropriate use, impacting HR professionals themselves as well as creating the need for new and revised policies for staff.

The HR profession is a broad one, encompassing many different activities and having an impact on every level and every function of organizations. The 21st century is an era in which decisions must be made quickly and implemented competently. The management of human resources is part of everyone’s job. Decisions must be made when and where they occur at the line level; those closest to the action must know how to be firm and competent in carrying out their HR responsibilities. They need to have expertise and to understand their responsibilities. HR professionals not only must have the knowledge and information necessary to oversee the HR function, but also must be prepared to guide others within the organization who have line responsibility for the organization’s human resources.

In October 2007, the World Federation of Personnel Management Associations (WFPMA), now the World Federation of People Management Associations, and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) conducted a worldwide study to identify and address key HR priorities. Eighty-three countries and markets were represented in the study. SHRM partnered with WFPMA and BCG in the collection of the U.S. data. To gain a better understanding of the human capital challenges that confront organizations, HR professionals were asked to identify priorities for their organizations now (2007) and in the future (2010-2015).

The most critical HR issues facing organizations were managing talent and improving leadership development, cited by approximately one-half of respondents each. Managing demographics, delivering on recruiting and staffing, and managing change and cultural transformation were the other leading HR challenges facing organizations. The least critical issues reported were providing shared services and outsourcing HR and managing corporate social responsibility.

HR management continues to be an evolving and multidimensional profession. Those in the profession must remain constantly ahead of the curve on laws, technology, and practice issues that impact their ability to manage critical organizational resources — human resources.

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