Everybody’s HR nowadays

Originally posted February 2014

“What do you do?” asked my new contact at a networking event

“I provide HR support for smaller companies” I replied

“Don’t envy you that” he said “I can’t be doing with all that people stuff”

“So what’s your role?” I asked

“I’m the Operations Manager for a company that makes and installs widgets. We’re growing, just won a big new contract and taking on a dozen new staff”

I’ve had that conversation (or variations of it) dozens of times over the years. It always intrigues me that “HR” is seen as something distinct and separate from the day to day running of a business. I’ve even heard HR described as a Black Art.

Fundamentally, the “Human Resources” of a business are the people who work within it. If you’re a manager, you are interacting with those people daily. For your direct team, you are talking to them about their work objectives and how well they are (or aren’t) doing. You may want to discuss whether they need extra training. Sometimes you may find that you don’t like or get on with colleagues and that is affecting how you work together. On occasions you might recognise yourself that you aren’t performing as well as you can and need some development. In short, you’re a people manager and you achieve your results through the people you work with. Put it another way – you’re doing HR!

So what do “HR” people do? Why do businesses even employ us? Once you strip away all the jargon ultimately it’s because we provide specialist skills and/or knowledge that the business needs. That could be technical stuff around employment law; it could be dealing with the mechanics of paying people correctly; it might be looking at how the business should be organised to achieve its objectives; or issues that are wider than just an individual manager or department (such as pay levels, recruitment strategy etc). And occasionally it does involve supporting managers in situations where they have less experience or which occur infrequently (such as dismissals).

HR – it’s what you do – and I support you with.

Are you ready for the Olympics?

Originally published in September 2011, this post is recycled regularly whenever there is a major sporting or public occasion!

Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed a raft of “Olympics” policies and briefings issued by various organisations. Now I know it’s good marketing advice to tie in your public comments with a current event or issue, but an Olympics policy? When we are trying to encourage business to be flexible and both managers and staff to behave responsibly, do we need to tie them down with yet another set of rules? And how, precisely, do these Olympics policies differ from the World Cup policies being touted last year, or the Royal Wedding advice that was available in the spring?
I used to work for a bus company that operated hundreds of buses, involving thousands of drivers, in Merseyside and North London. When Liverpool played Arsenal in the Cup Final one year, did I write out an FA Cup Final policy for our garage managers to follow?  No – in fact as HR Manager I left matters completely in the hands of frontline staff and managers, who with a mixture of shift swaps, overtime and knowledge that for every football fan there was a driver who wasn’t interested in football (or was an Everton or Spurs fan!), ensured that services were covered.
It’s really a question of “work-life” balance.  If an individual has a particular interest in something happening outside work and you can accommodate a request for time off then there’s no problem. Equally if it’s an event that happens during working hours, is it really going to be that disruptive to let staff keep track of it while working? (after all, even with false starts, Usain Bolt can run 100m in less than 10 seconds).  Forward planning, not rules and procedures, is what is needed.