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HR’s evolution from admin to strategy

Jonathan Richards, CEO of Breathe

Over the years, the HR department has evolved tremendously. So much so, it’s almost at the brink of Darwinism. Back in the old days the HR function was often referred to as simply ‘personnel’. It was primarily there to keep records; ensure the company complied with regulations and laws and determine and manage wages. Something very different to what we see today.

A lot of this is down to the stream of new technologies that have been developed and are being used within HR. Much of what HR professionals used to do is being automated, causing the department that exists today to look almost nothing like the ones that existed previously. Not only are there programs that can streamline the onboarding process and automate payroll, but there are also platforms that can simplify the recruitment process from start to finish.

Rather than focusing on administrative tasks and personnel management, a forward-thinking HR department should be spending most of its time on the company’s culture and managing employee engagement. As we all know by now, this is where the money is. If employees are unhappy or disengaged, they will be unproductive, produce mediocre work or at worst leave the business. Positive corporate culture breeds loyal employees and reduces turnover — everything you want as a business owner. And something Charles Darwin would see as a step towards evolution.  

Part of this evolution of the HR function is to become more agile. So, how can the HR function become and – more importantly – remain agile and ahead of the game? It needs to become more strategic.

Understand and align the HR

There is a huge amount of research that demonstrates the value of an engaged workforce, proving that the business case for HR is stronger than ever. A study by Gallup revealed that companies where engagement is high typically experience 40% lower turnover of staff, a 21% higher productivity rate and a 22% increased profitability.

This proves the business value for HR is stronger than ever, and the whole company needs to understand that. These statistics and the huge impact an engaged workforce can have should then be shared with all the employees, not just the more senior leaders so that everyone understand the function of HR and support it.

Many companies may understand the value that this function brings, however it may not be aligned with the rest of the organisation in a way to get the most out of it. It is important for business leaders to demonstrate that it is a two-way street and that for an employee to engage with personal development such as feedback and goal setting, this will hugely benefit them but also provide opportunities and a structured career path.

How is employee experience being defined?

Company culture is not just a nice to have, it’s a must. The evidence is there. A strong organisational culture drives positive results across the spectrum of business metrics. Your culture is directly linked to sustained organisational success however you measure it.

Gauging the happiness of your employees and the impact your company culture has on business is not easy. But a lot of it comes with honesty. The main approach is through a survey to employees, including questions that help form an understanding of the culture and how it has impacted business processes. However, with surveys you always run the risk of employees not completing them due to time or other priorities, so the best way can often be shorter, more regular surveys. Although this is a very traditional approach to measuring culture, it is still considered to be very effective.

As a business leader, immersing yourself on the office floor and spending time with employees is another hugely valuable way to get an understanding of the culture.

Leverage and understand value of the technologies

Focus on your people – rather than paper – by using technology. Some recent research actually revealed that CEOs of SMEs are losing a fifth of their working week to HR admin tasks. Now more than ever, line managers and HR specialists should embrace the array of technology tools on the market. These tools take care of the mundane administrative tasks – such as absence forms and expenses – and automate the process.

This saves employers valuable time, allowing them to focus on a more strategic role in ensuring employees are developing and growing to their full potential. This also takes out the element of human error, and frees up employee’s time, allowing them to focus on more rewarding tasks such as business development. It may not quite be the evolution of natural selection, but the change and developments that are being made within the HR function is revolutionising.

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