The many faces of HR: Managing expectations and producing results
By Elaine Varelas, 04/07/2008
Thanks to our pioneering predecessors, the role of human resources professionals has evolved from being responsible for only punch cards and payroll, to being a powerful force in defining organizations. As company leaders discover the importance of their people in driving success, HR mangers are playing a key role in developing and implementing business strategy.
While this makes for exciting opportunities for HR managers working in the field today, it can also cause some confusion as to where to focus our energy-and produce results. Everybody has different expectations. How do HR professionals keep the ever increasing number of functions under the HR umbrella running like a well-oiled machine?
It may help to take a cue from a crowd that knows all about high-performance vehicles. Whether you're an avid fan of car racing, or don't know NASCAR from Madagascar, HR managers can learn something from the drivers and their teams who populate America's fastest growing sport. In fact, there are many similarities between racing and human resources. Let's take a look:
For optimal performance, schedule regular maintenance – Vehicle upkeep in racing is similar to managing (or outsourcing) the traditional components of HR, like payroll, benefits administration and basic compliance to name a few. Maintaining this infrastructure is vital to keeping a company running effectively, but it doesn't make human resources powerful within the organization. These functions should be a "given" in any organization. If systems are in place so that these day-to-day tasks run smoothly, HR managers can focus their energy in other areas where strategy makes an impact.
Know the track – HR planning can't exist in a vacuum. The most creative programs in the world will fail if they don't share the same goals as the company's business strategy. HR planning should be aligned with the overall mission and strategy of the organization- with both entities working on the same track.
Check the mirrors – One of the most important roles of the HR manager is to hold up a mirror to the organization. At key intervals, managers should look to company leadership and ask some tough questions: Where have we been and where are we going? Why are we doing what we're doing? What are we trying to accomplish? Is there a better way? Many organizations get stuck in a rut, and take a certain approach because they've always done it that way. The world, the economy and your organization change every day. HR and business strategies must adapt to and address these changes-and HR managers can show those in the corner office how to affect change. If your methods are out-dated, your organization will struggle to reach its goals.
Keep pit stops brief – If you've ever watched a NASCAR race, you've seen a driver pull over for a pit stop where his team springs into action and works feverishly in tandem to fix the problem and get the vehicle back out onto the track as quickly as possible. In HR, setbacks are inevitable-difficult managers, underperforming partners and rogue employees can happen in any organization. These people and behaviors can put the organization at risk. How efficient is your team in addressing these issues? Are you forever in the pit dealing with (or not dealing with) these challenges? The HR team needs to have a protocol for tackling these situations quickly and moving on. You can't get ahead if you're always in the pit making repairs.
Take the lead – Everyone always watches the leader. Are you a leader in your organization? HR managers work diligently to implement training, development and succession planning programs throughout the organization, but what about the HR department? The HR organization should serve as a model for the rest of the company by being the best managed and best developed, with an efficient succession plan in place.
Don't be afraid to advertise – NASCAR drivers' suits, hats and cars are plastered with their team's advertisers. In fact, the top racers are known as much for their advertisers as their car numbers. HR managers should be as zealous about promoting their programs and initiatives. Communicate successes throughout the organization. You can't be recognized for a job well done, if nobody knows you did it.
Be a risk-taker – The most powerful way to produce results is to work hard - and take risks. But risk-taking is, well, risky. Not all risks are going to succeed, but many are worth trying. This is the key area where HR managers can produce deliverables. One challenge is encouraging leadership to leap. It may help to roll out initiatives in increments. For example, try pilot programs with a smaller group, or in satellite locations. Most importantly, document success with quantitative results. If you can demonstrate results on a smaller scale, you can then implement the program company-wide.
With the increasing number of responsibilities collecting under the realm of human resources, HR managers can get so caught up in day-to-day tasks, that they lose sight of their goals. If you take care of the HR infrastructure and have an efficient way of dealing with pit stops, then you are better poised to work in concert with the business strategy to take risks and make real contributions to the organization. HR managers can produce small results in many areas, but the biggest impact can be made by taking risks. In car racing as well as business, it is the ones who take risks who tend to win the races.
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