The 12 things HR can do for your business

Last year, I published a post which outlined the 15 things that HR should do – at a minimum – for the people who work within a business. Although I’d argue that doing these things for workers has a positive impact on employers as well, a more sceptical businessperson might wonder if and how their company would benefit from HR. After all, why would you pay for something if you aren’t getting something in return? So here are my 12 reasons why a business would want HR:

1. We’ll make sure that not only do you comply with employment laws, but that we implement them in a way that fits the business strategy and culture

2. We’ll make sure that the business is able to get the right people, in the right number, at the right time.

3. We’ll advise you on the ‘people consequences’ of any business proposals, so that you are taking decisions on the future with full knowledge of all the issues (not just the financial ones)

4. When problems occur with individuals, or groups of employees, we’ll look to find sensible, legal and effective solutions to minimise the damage to the organisation

5. We’ll be your experts in the labour market, knowing what outside factors will have an impact on helping us to deliver – or which need to be overcome to deliver – point 2 above.

6. When changes happen, we’ll understand the best way to minimise disruption and achieve what you want to set out.

7. HR isn’t your business conscience – but we will remind you that you have ethical responsibilities (and normal human emotions) that need to be factored in

8. We’re not your police either – so if we need to put in policies, systems, or procedures,  we’ll make sure they are there for a clear and understandable reason and that everyone understands the consequences of not complying

9. We’ll manage training and development, so that people in the business get the skills they need to do their jobs in a way that’s cost-effective.

10. We’ll use our specialist knowledge to support managers to manage people more effectively

11. If a problem needs a long-term solution, we won’t just offer you a quick fix

12. If there’s a new idea floating around, we’ll look for evidence that it will actually improve things before recommending you implement it

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Human Resources by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

“Just one in ten Brits is engaged at work” – Who Cares?

Last week I attended Prof Rob Briner’s entertaining talk on Evidence Based HR, in Liverpool. His concluding section was on how to spot a management fad, and only a few days later I had a perfect example.

“Just one in 10 Brits feel engaged at work, says Gallup” shouted a People Management article. According to the report, that lagged well behind the US where the figure is apparently one third, and it was suggested that US management practices were one of the principal causes.

I thought it would be quite interesting to explore this in more detail. However, the full report is not available until the end of November – and will cost me £37.50! I wasn’t that interested so I thought that the Executive Summary would do. However, to get this, I need to give Gallup all manner of contact details and information about my organisation, and before I could get the download information there was the threat that “someone from Gallup may contact you to discuss your interest further”.

So essentially, Gallup have issued some marketing information disguised as “news”, with data that they are only prepared to reveal at a price and which can’t currently be challenged. It’s the sort of approach that ought to sound warning bells for anyone (such as a prospective customer) looking for evidence to support their claims.

And even if we take their facts as true, there are a number of questionable elements. Why does it matter that only 11% (which is actually one in nine, but what’s a percentage point between friends?) of Brits are engaged? Does it affect organisational performance – if so how? Profitability, turnover, productivity? And if it’s a more direct people impact, what is it? Turnover, absence rates, recruitment difficulties, industrial disputes?

And what about these management practices that result in higher US scores? What exactly are they? How do they affect engagement? And are they suggesting that US businesses are 23% better in organisational performance? We’re not told, which makes me wonder why low engagement is a problem at all? Could it be that Gallup have some magic product or consultancy service that they wish to sell?

Now, you may think that it’s easier to debunk someone else’s idea rather than come up with a possible solution myself – a question the CIPD’s David D’Souza raised on Twitter last week as a result of this article in the New York Times about psychologist Amy Cuddy and her “power pose” research. However, I think that’s missing the point. We should critically evaluate other people’s findings and scrutinise whether things that are claimed actually do work. The example of Amy Cuddy suggests that the debate moved from her actual research into a battle of egos and ad-hominem attacks, accompanied by online trolling by academics that seems to have made Twitter seem like a bastion of civilised discussion in comparison.   

Weather man says fine today

Radio 4’s ever interesting Thinking Allowed programme recently featured a report of a study into weather forecasters- and specifically what it referred to a “science rooted in unpredictability”. The research was based on a long-term study and its key findings were:

  • The core of the profession was based on evidence and data – whether this was an analysis of historic trends, mapping variable data in to the future, or using latest research to inform and update their modelling and prediction techniques
  • At the same time results needed to be interpreted and presented in a meaningful way to the recipient. While it might be scientifically accurate to say that there is a 65% chance of rain, what the end user wants to know is “do I need to take my umbrella out with me?”. So a key skill is clear and effective communication
  • Personal experience and “intuition” are still a vital part of managing the unpredictability – the research revealed that forecasters might spend significant time observing the sky and sharing stories and anecdotes as well as poring over computer models and satellite images. Being able on occasions to use this accumulated knowledge is essential to develop appropriate solutions. In fact the report gave an excellent example of this. The computer model predicted that Kansas City would not receive its first snowfall of the winter one night. Experienced forecasters believed it would. The decision was to go with the computer model, and the result was chaos as the city ground to a halt, unprepared for heavy snow.

Very interesting you may be thinking, but why are you writing an HR blog about it? It seems to me that this research also describes HR management pretty well. We’re dealing with unpredictable elements all the time (we call them “human resources”, though I prefer “people”). We should be using evidence and data wherever possible to support our activities (sadly, we don’t on too many occasions) but we also need to rely on our own experience to inform the judgments and decisions we make. And we need to communicate our advice and decisions in a way that is understandable and useful to managers and employees.

You can listen to the full Thinking Allowed report here