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Ventura, California
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The REAL Purpose of HR

Ignore Human Resources at your peril! This department is the foundation of a happy and healthy business and is often thoroughly misunderstood. Read how you can change your own HR department into a thriving, helpful group supporting your company's prosperity.
Written May 28, 2010, read 33943 times since then.
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At a recent offsite with a group of highly skilled Human Resources executives, I asked the toughest question of the day: “What is the purpose of HR in a company?”

The silence was deafening.

Then, slowly, as the stunned crowd came back to life, a few muffled answers surfaced. “To hire and fire.” Decent, but shortsighted. “To ensure compliance with employment law.” Not quite. “To recruit top talent.” A partial answer.

None of these executives fully knew what Human Resources departments were designed to do. Why was HR created? What value does it add in an organization? How could we know if the HR department was a good one or a bad one?

This problem is all too common. Some companies choose to outsource HR entirely and just hire contractors until they are too large and have to pull HR in-house. Because HR has lost sight of its purpose in modern companies, it becomes ill-defined, often lackadaisical and sometimes ridiculed.

The answer to this malady is to restate and re-instill the purpose of the HR function: To hire, train, motivate and support productive employees.  This means that various tasks fall to HR which can be measured. It is not the wishy-washy, touchy-feely area it might seem to be.

HR departments should:

 1. Hire good people. Qualified people hired and working can be measured.

2. Train people to do their jobs correctly. People in their roles who are fully trained to do them can also be measured, as can various training modules on the way to full competency.

3. Motivate employees. This means removing barriers to productivity.  This can be measured by tracking each employee’s productivity.

4. Support productive employees. This can be measured by compliance with policy and law and by retention.

Most HR departments cover #1 nicely. #2 is often sketchy and only sometimes effective. #3 and #4 are fertile ground for further discussion.

How does one motivate employees? Motivation can be defined as a willingness to do something. Willingness is the greatest tool any person has to accomplish goals. What gets in the way of willingness is too many barriers and too many failed purposes. An effective Human Resources department  can remove these barriers for the majority of the company and watch as productivity rises.

Barriers can be conflicts in the workplace, employee relations issues, pay problems, and a host of other possible topics. Human Resources professionals have to be highly trained in handling conflicts and bureaucracy to accomplish this step. If HR isn’t able to track each employee’s productivity, it will be difficult to assess whether barriers have been removed.

Imagine this utopian example. Joe is a Director of Marketing for a major division of a large retail chain. He has been working on a project to increase customer engagement through targeted marketing and has been successful at doing so. Customer engagement in his target market is up 6% over last quarter. His boss, the VP of Marketing, then tells him he is ineffective and that he should stop the project and work on a social media marketing campaign.

In a perfect world, Joe goes to HR and explains the situation. HR sets up a conference with Joe and his boss, bringing the graph showing Joe’s recent success. The confusions are resolved and Joe is returned to his prior project and someone else is put on the social media campaign.

A few key points come from this example. 1. The VP of Marketing should have known Joe was successful. Since he didn’t, it is HR’s job to let them know he is a good employee who should be protected. 2. HR should be skilled in negotiating difficult human interactions, as this one could potentially have been, especially if pressure to do a social media campaign was coming from further up the org chart. 3. No stop or stall in production should result from this problem. HR should act swiftly and accurately to keep production moving. 4. If the VP of Marketing himself is having trouble, HR should note this and help him to remove barriers to his production as well without pushing confusion downward to his team.

The key point here is that Human Resources is the backbone of a productive, happy organization. Why? Because nothing in a company is accomplished without its people.  Skilled management of the people and support of their productivity is a vital foundation for the rest of the company. So get your HR department functioning correctly now and reap the rewards down the line.

 

 

 

 

Executive Coach and Consultant 
Ventura, California 
Jill Chiappe

Jill Chiappe is the CEO of Coachability, Inc. Click on the following link to take our free business analysis covering the seven major areas of your business: www.becoachable.com/test

Learn more about the author, Jill Chiappe.

Comment on this article

  • Life Coach/Business Coach 
Portland, Oregon 
Laura Joki, CPC
    Posted by Laura Joki, CPC, Portland, Oregon | May 31, 2010

    Thank you for writing this article! My experience also reflects business leaders not really understanding the function of HR and how it is there to serve the organization, ALL of the organization.

  • Executive Coach and Consultant 
Ventura, California 
Jill Chiappe
    Posted by Jill Chiappe, Ventura, California | May 31, 2010

    Thanks, Laura. I believe it is one of the most misunderstood areas of any company. And you are welcome!

  • Life Coach/Business Coach 
Portland, Oregon 
Laura Joki, CPC
    Posted by Laura Joki, CPC, Portland, Oregon | Jun 01, 2010

    What is your opinion of someone in direct supervision of the majority of the company, being in HR?

    I feel that an HR rep should be able to be unbiased and in a supervisor/subordinate relationship, I don't believe it's possible.

  • Executive Coach and Consultant 
Ventura, California 
Jill Chiappe
    Posted by Jill Chiappe, Ventura, California | Jun 01, 2010

    I agree there is a need for an unbiased viewpoint to navigate employee relations issues. It seems that some readjustment of company structure is necessary in the case you describe, although I would need a little more data to give you a full analysis. I'd be happy to talk more about it with you.

  • CEO 
St Paul, Minnesota 
Barry Farrell
    Posted by Barry Farrell, St Paul, Minnesota | Jun 02, 2010

    Jill, this is a good article because it points out a big problem in American business today. I agree with all of your conceptual points. It has been my experience that companies benefit greatly from a Human Resources department that has the authority and capability to carry out its duties.

  • HR Consultant 
Wichita Falls, Texas 
Penny Miller
    Posted by Penny Miller, Wichita Falls, Texas | Jun 02, 2010

    Jill, I agree with your premise that most HR departments are poorly used to further the interests of the business. Neither senior managers, nor as you noted in your article, HR professionals themselves seem to know what they should be doing. That is unfortunate, given that a company's employees are often the source of competitive advantage for the organization. Thanks for your article.

  • Executive Coach and Consultant 
Ventura, California 
Jill Chiappe
    Posted by Jill Chiappe, Ventura, California | Jun 07, 2010

    Thanks for these great comments. Let's get these HR departments on track! It will help us all in the long run.

  • CEO 
St Paul, Minnesota 
Barry Farrell
    Posted by Barry Farrell, St Paul, Minnesota | Jun 07, 2010

    As a consultant, I have worked with HR departments for the past 30 years. I am always amazed that this function of a company usually has little or no clout in the organization. HR departments often want to change policy or tactics to fix something that has been broken for a long time, but they are usually thwarted by Operations and things essentially remain the same. Sometimes, however, I do see an HR department that is empowered to take action whenever necessary. Companies that understand that employees are ultimately the source of all revenue typically outperform counterparts in their industry.

  • Executive Coach and Consultant 
Ventura, California 
Jill Chiappe
    Posted by Jill Chiappe, Ventura, California | Jun 08, 2010

    Great points, Barry! It's my idea that this loss of purpose and direction has contributed to the weakening of the clout of HR in organizations. I would love to see that change.

  • Executive Director 
Clearwater, Florida 
Stan Dubin
    Posted by Stan Dubin, Clearwater, Florida | Sep 01, 2010

    When an HR Department accomplishes Items 1-4 above, they're worth their weight in gold. Describing very specifically what a post or department should produce makes a big difference, and Jill certainly did that here with HR.

  • Independent Film & Video Producer/Creative Director 
Seattle, Washington 
James Goldsmith
    Posted by James Goldsmith, Seattle, Washington | Sep 01, 2010

    The best HR people are entrepreneurs, because they can their work magic, project to project. Always tweaking the talent involved without corporate intervention. That's the reason private industry is the stronger backbone in business overall.

    We will lead the recovery that hopefully turns this financial depression around because of these independent HR professionals that are to competent for large corporations. Cheers to your article, Jill!

  • Executive Coach and Consultant 
Ventura, California 
Jill Chiappe
    Posted by Jill Chiappe, Ventura, California | Sep 23, 2010

    Thanks for all these great comments. Let's get some great HR departments going!

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