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HR at Your Service Chapter 1 Excerpt

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HR at Your Service: Lessons from Benchmark Service Organizations

By Gary P. Latham and Robert C. Ford
2012, 194 pages, Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-58644-247-7
SHRMStore Item #61.15017

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Excerpt of Chapter 1

“Give the people everything you can give them.” — Walt Disney, founder, Walt Disney Company

Researchers who study human resource management have documented that HR practices are leading indicators of a firm’s financial performance. Yet, many human resource departments are frustrated by the lack of recognition and appreciation they receive for the contributions made to their organization’s effectiveness. Further, HR managers have long wondered how they can offer input into crucial decisions and demonstrate how the services they provide can contribute to the organization’s overall effectiveness, efficiency, and return on investment (ROI). They long for the opportunity to lead the future thinking on HR management in their organizations instead of defending the value they add from constant cost-cutting initiatives led by those who will not or cannot see what HR contributes to organizational success. The key to gaining participation and defending the value of HR’s contributions lies in taking a client-centric approach to delivering HR’s services.

Fortunately, the service/hospitality industry provides a blueprint for how HR can remodel itself into a service-oriented department focused on the needs of the managers and employees it serves. Fundamentally, HR is a service department within the organization in which it operates. As such, there are lessons it can learn from benchmark service organizations such as the Walt Disney Co., hotelier Marriott International Inc., Darden’s restaurants, and USAA, a provider of financial services to members of the armed forces and their families, among others. Service industry strategies applied by HR managers can transform an HR department by improving its perception by the organization’s managers as a department of value-adding leaders, increasing the importance of its voice in the C-suite, and broadening appreciation for and recognition of its invaluable contributions to an organization’s success.

Client-centric HR service, informed by the lessons learned in the service industry, provides a straightforward path to improving HR’s ability to contribute to an organization’s success and to that of its units. Client-centric service is based on two simple steps practiced by successful benchmark service organizations. First, find out what managers and their employees need, want, and expect to be successful, and establish what they are capable of doing. Second, endeavor to meet or exceed their needs, wants, and expectations while enhancing their capabilities.

Although these steps sound simple to do, they are admittedly hard work. Doing what you want to do and know how to do is much easier than asking or studying clients to find out what they really need in order for them to be effective. It is always tempting to take time to solve HR’s problems rather than the problems within other departments. That is the traditional way things get done in nonservice organizations, and it is wrong. What HR can learn from Disney, Marriott, Darden, USAA, and many other outstanding service organizations highlighted throughout this book is to find out from clients what is important, valued, and useful—and then act on that knowledge. These service organizations offer HR clear lessons on how to learn from its clients in order to identify, design, and deliver what they truly want, need, and expect human resources to do to find and help solve organizational problems and improve everyone’s performance.

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Two fundamental concepts in the service industry ensure customer satisfaction. These concepts should be used by HR departments seeking to become client-centric.

First, a client-centric HR department’s every action should be focused on and directed to the client. Many HR managers say they think first about their clients. But their behavior and time allocations may indicate that in reality they give top priority to their own department’s needs and requirements. The first fundamental concept in service requires HR managers to manage from the outside in: Start with the clients. Study the overall organization, its managers, and its employees endlessly: Learn their language, embrace their mission and goals, and support their success by knowing what they want, need, value, do, and expect. Focus everyone in HR on figuring out how to do a better job of meeting and exceeding managers’ expectations in ways that help them attain the organization’s goals and achieve their mission.

The second fundamental concept practiced by hallmark service organizations is value each and every client. In client-centric HR departments, HR staff members constantly and consistently show in word and deed that they value each client. Training the HR staff to think of managers and employees as valued clients whom they serve on behalf of the organization makes a difference in how managers and their employees will see the HR department and its value to them. This approach is more than mere “client orientation.” It is recognition that the client should be treated with the respect and attention of any honored and valued guest welcomed to a person’s home or table. While we will use the terms “guest,” “customer,” and “client” throughout the remainder of this book, we want to underscore the noticeable difference between being treated as a partner in a commercial transaction—a customer—and being an honored and valued guest. It is more than a term difference. It is an attitude difference that is noticed by clients and matters to them.

Benchmark service organizations such as Disney know the difference, and HR managers in all organizations should too. Failure to consider your organization’s employees as honored and valued clients can lead to a number of negative outcomes, ranging from them ignoring HR’s advice to—at the extreme—recommending cutting the HR budget or even outsourcing HR management. If managers view HR as unresponsive and impersonal and an outsourced firm can do the same work as the HR department for less cost, why not trade a high-cost, nonservice-oriented department for a less expensive one?

Seeing managers and their employees as valued clients, however, changes everything the HR department does and how it does it. A line manager comes to the HR department seeking to obtain advice on a subject in which HR has expertise. If HR provides a memorable experience by demonstrating a client-centric attitude and taking client-centric actions while delivering that advice, the line manager will think “Wow! This HR department is fantastic.” Creating an experience that revolves around the client, instead of merely providing a cost-effective service, is a simple way to turn line managers into champions of Human Resources. Doing so requires a genuine willingness to listen to clients, demonstrating a caring attitude that turns an otherwise routine transaction into a client-centric experience that impresses them.

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Among the challenges for client-centric HR departments is to ensure that their staff consistently offer the high level of service that managers and employees want and expect. They must understand the truth that service managers know well: Service quality and service value are defined solely in the mind of the client. While Consumer Reports from time to time evaluates an airline, hotel, or restaurant, in HR decisions about the quality and value of an HR department is made anew by each individual client in every transaction with HR.

To create a service-oriented, client-centric department, HR must study its clients to know what they expect, what they need, what their limitations are, and how they get things done. The client experience has three components: the service product, the service setting or environment, and the service delivery. In short, HR strategy, staff, and systems can be aligned to meet or exceed the client’s expectations regarding each of these three by systematically studying managers, their employees, and their performance needs and goals. This way, HR leaders can identify what managers need and want from HR, how they want to be treated when they interact with HR, and how to make them satisfied that HR provided the service they wanted—even if they did not know initially how to define their needs.

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