The Top 5 Priorities for HR Departments of One

Engaging and retaining workers tops solo practitioners’ goals for second straight year

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer June 25, 2019
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​LAS VEGAS—Jennifer Currence, SHRM-SCP, the president of The Currence Group in Tampa, Fla., and an HR trainer and leadership development expert, polled solo HR practitioners to say which of the behavioral and technical competencies contained within the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM's) Body of Competency and Knowledge are the most critical to them.

Here's the ranking, based on 217 responses, as she presented it at the SHRM 2019 Annual Conference & Exposition.

1. Employee Engagement

Employee engagement was the most critical issue for the second straight year. Employee engagement covers many areas, including retaining high-performing talent, fortifying the employee-employer relationship, managing performance and creating an energizing culture.

Research shows that the top reason workers leave a job is because they are unhappy with their manager, but other things that turn off employees are a lack of trust in senior management and the perception that the company values making money more than its workers' well-being.

That's a good reason for employers to invest in training managers on coaching and providing feedback, encouraging employees with frequent personalized recognition, and treating employees like adults, Currence said.

Channeling President John F. Kennedy, Currence said that employers should "Ask not what your employees can do for you, but what you can do for your employees."

HR can also increase employee engagement by offering learning opportunities and health and wellness initiatives and by asking employees for their improvement suggestions.

2. Talent Acquisition

Currence said she had expected this result: Attracting and hiring talent is one of solo practitioners' top concerns, especially with U.S. unemployment at a record low and recruiters reporting increasing difficulty finding the talent they need. Average time-to-fill is 42 days, she said.

Employer branding and digital presence is essential, Currence said. Talent acquisition teams can find prospective employees on sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, ensure visibility on job boards, and develop a proactive reputation management strategy for Glassdoor and other employer review sites.

Currence recommended that solo practitioners advertise career development opportunities and showcase employee testimonials and employer branding videos on the company's careers site and social media.

She also recommended improving recruiting processes, looking for bottlenecks and shortening time-to-hire.

3. Leadership

Leadership ties very closely with the HR competency of business acumen, Currence said. Survey respondents said that they felt HR still has a long way to go to be taken seriously enough to be included in major business decisions. "To gain credibility, first understand the 'why and how' of building a business strategy—I'm talking specifics," she said. "Applying what you know about the business when leading and promoting change and executing key HR initiatives is showing leadership."

Currence recommended attendees use SHRM's competency assessment tools to gauge their HR skills and competencies and guide them toward further training and development.

4. Communication

Delivering, receiving and translating messages up and down the organizational chain is the foundation for HR's success in an organization, Currence said.

"Too many organizations are siloed," she said. "Employees crave cross-functional interaction. Think about what happens when people don't know what other people are doing. Processes are all askew."

Ways to break down those siloes include holding all-hands meetings in person so colleagues can talk to one another face-to-face, conducting—and acting on the results of—employee engagement surveys, and onboarding new hires properly.

"Onboarding is so important," Currence said. "Onboarding can be a great way to introduce new hires to other people in the organization, breaking down siloes from the beginning."

She also recommended using behavioral assessments to understand how different individuals communicate.

5. Business Acumen

A strong understanding of the business allows HR to make decisions quickly and confidently.

"In order to have a seat at the table, HR needs to know how its efforts are affecting the bottom line and the strategic goals of the organization," she said. "Being strategic for HR means aligning HR programs with the goals of the organization."

Some of the areas HR departments of one need to know about to do this include finance, strategy, sales, marketing and operations, as well as understanding the company's industry and competition.

Another way of thinking about business acumen is knowing what's best for the company, Currence said.

She shared that one of the best learning experiences she ever had was when she was a solo practitioner at a sales organization years ago and was going on a ride-along with a sales manager to understand the business from the ground up.

"When thinking of ways to enhance your business acumen, be creative, make sure you relate your efforts to the business and, if all else fails, just ask questions," she said.

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