Defining era for HR as staff move up agenda

The HR profession is entering a ‘make or break’ era as people issues finally move to the top of the business agenda.

A global study by consultancy Accenture shows that attracting and retaining staff is now the top priority for chief executives, and that workforce issues make up four of the top 10 concerns for company chiefs.

While this trend creates a golden opportunity for HR directors, HR consultant Bruce Warman warned that it is also their greatest threat.

“Switched-on chief executives do see HR as the key to success in a much more business-focused way than the old ‘people are our biggest asset’ platitudes,” he said. “But unless HR directors can show they are up to understanding the business issues and leading the change processes needed, then the chief executives will grab this space.”

Peter Cheese, global managing partner of Accenture’s human performance practice, said the HR profession is entering a defining age.

“This is the final leg of HR’s journey [towards becoming] a value-adding capability,” he said. “CEOs are now issuing a serious challenge. The question is, can HR step up to the challenge and address these critical workforce issues?”

Sue Adams, head of HR at the Northwest Regional Development Agency, said CEOs are often driven by issues that do not always sit comfortably with HR best practice, and it is now up to HR professionals to change their views.

But Andrew Harley, HR director at mobile phone operator O2, urged HR professionals not to get wrapped up with the question of internal influence.

“A focus on the most senior team will detract from our ability to influence business performance and the customer/employee experience,” he said. “This is the key to culture and whether employees join and stay with a company.”

Top 10 priorities for chief execs
1. Attracting and retaining skilled staff
2. Changing organisational culture and employee attitudes
3. Acquiring new customers
4. Increasing customer loyalty
5. Managing risk
6. Improving workforce performance
7. Increasing shareholder value
8. Using IT to reduce costs
9. Being adaptable to rapidly changing market conditions
10. Developing capable leaders
Source: Accenture

Feedback from the profession

Kate Constable, head of HR change, Portman Building Society: “The value of HR is being increasingly recognised, although as a profession we need to work harder to demonstrate value through effective measurements that see HR add value to the bottom line.”

Sue Adams, head of HR, Northwest Regional Development Agency: “All too often, the focus of HR practice centres on performance monitoring that is not always linked to organisational objectives. While this is important, it is just one element of the people management and development tool kit.”

Lucy Lofting, HR director, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line: “For senior management to task HR to deliver improvements in these areas, measurable deliverables are needed. If HR can deliver when handed business problems, it will gain the recognition at the top that it craves.”

Author: Mike Berry
Personnel Today magazine
9 August 2005

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