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1980s throwback
Recently someone said to me at an event: ‘You are in Human Resources? You’re definitely not an HR person. The HR team in our company is just about admin; they’re really unfriendly and I would never trust them with anything’. Sadly, it’s not the first time I’ve heard people talk about HR in this way. My own experience is that some blinkered people still believe that HR are purely ‘personnel’. Hello… 1980s calling! In my opinion, this is not only stifling the potential of many talented people, but also businesses.

Policy police
I have also worked with some leaders who don’t want HR to be anything other than the policy police – purely there to fire fight when things go wrong (sometimes even just turn a blind eye). Maybe it’s their lack of understanding of what a good HR professional is capable of. It does sometimes feel like there are two different tiers to the profession. And yet, from my extensive experience in this very area, I believe that interpreting HR as merely a transactional function of a business is hugely short-sighted. I know many impressive HR professionals that are at the core of their company’s success – both strategically and culturally. And I’d like to see this more.

Transformational player
One of my favourite and successful projects was working alongside the General Manager and the Chief Technology Officer of a software business. With the introduction of a new product and a different way of working, we were aligned in what needed to get done in order for the business to completely shift. I was an integral part of the transformation – a designer and driver of change, rather than placed in a limited, pigeon-holed role that didn’t leverage my true potential.

Commercial & cultural
Given the chance, I think this is where HR teams can really shine: simultaneously being immersed in the commercial side of an organisation, yet also regularly checking in with its most valuable commodity – its people. Without engagement, the right skills and the buy-in of the workforce, the success of new business ventures or approaches will be short-lived. In tandem, strategic awareness allows a company to truly understand where it is in the market vis-à-vis its competitors. This knowledge can help leaders – and the right people below them – make purposeful decisions.

In the words of Marcy Klipfel, a member of the Forbes Human Resources Council, “One of the many ways HR departments demonstrate their value is by contributing to financial outcomes. This is accomplished in ways, such as lowering turnover costs, keeping the workforce skilled and nimble, finding and attracting the right talent, managing benefits costs and avoiding penalties by mitigating risk”.

Another key area where HR can and will increasingly add value is in data analytics. Despite having access to a wealth of data, HR teams are often bogged down with admin tasks and legal issues. As I’ve mentioned, traditionally they’re seen as people, not numbers-orientated. I think this is an oversight. If HR professionals can use the data they have at their fingertips, they can predict trends ahead of time, improve leadership decisions, make the company’s processes and operations more efficient and effective, and look after staff in a personalised way. Again, it’s this strategic capability that has the power to make HR functions so pivotal.

The future is AI
It would be remiss of me to talk about the future of HR without nodding to the increasing role of advanced technologies. Without a doubt, machine learning and Artificial Intelligence are already changing our workplaces. Employees are having to think in a new way and will need to be re-skilled. These times of huge technological change will need to be navigated by HR teams. So, I see HR’s role gaining in prominence, not diminishing – as some doom mongers predict. In fact, AI will humanize HR further, in my opinion, given the more personalised solutions and experiences it will provide employees. As technology and software expert, Emily He, says: “HR can use AI to make better decisions because now we have the opportunity to marry the people data with the business data”.

Critical role
It’s clear, then, that the potential of Human Resources is gaining in importance as its roles diversify. In my opinion, HR can be the strategic and cultural linchpin during times of transformation. But out-dated stereotypes about HR professionals need to change with the times – otherwise businesses of all shapes and sizes are wasting opportunities. Organisations that value and nurture the far-reaching competence of HR teams, are the ones that will reap their return on investment and be future-ready.

If you’d like to hear more about how I can help both HR teams and senior leadership achieve their true potential, please do get in touch:

If you’ve enjoyed reading this, find out more about my opinions on agile leadership.