It's not just a place to go when troubles arise: Human Resources is a vital department within companies, but too often they are misunderstood and underutilized.
Thirty years ago, we had the "personnel department." It took care of pretty much everything relating to people in the workplace. Then about twenty years ago we had split - techo-terms became the rage (remember "domestic engineers?) and we realized that we were dealing "human resources," and so a new department was born. But over the past fifteen-to-twenty years, HR has gone through another split: Human Resource Management, and Human Resource Development. Yes, the two have a bit of overlap, but agreement among experts in the field is that the two branches of HR can help an organization accomplish its strategic goals - if only top management would let them.
First a bit of clarification:
Human Resource Management is commonplace in most larger companies. According to Richard Chang, author of The Passion Plan at Work, HRM focuses mainly on HR Research and Information Systems, Union/Labor Relations, Employee Assistance, and Employee Compensation/Benefits.
Human Resource Development, according to Chang, includes Career Development (helping individuals align their career planning), Organizational Development (helping groups initiate and manage change), and Training and Development (designing / developing, and delivering training to ensure people are equipped to do their jobs).
Where the two tend to overlap are Selection and Staffing, Organizational/Job Design, Human Resource Planning, and Performance Management System.
What's important to note about HR overall is that too often it is omitted from participation in key strategic decisions. This mistake can be quite detrimental to effectively achieving strategic goals. Here are some reasons to include HR in the planning process (as well as in meetings of top management):
1. Selection and Staffing: When goals are set, it's people who work to fulfill those goals. Having the right people in the right places is vital, and if new hiring is to occur, finding the right people is equally vital. HR folks are usually on top of the employee market, and decisions will be more effective if HR knows firsthand the clear direction of the company. They can immediately speak to any potential conflicts between what a company wants and what is truly realistic in HR terms, thus helping ensure the plans are workable right from the start.
2. Organizational Development: Strategic planning often encompasses change in workplace systems or processes. Although individual departments are likely aware of the status of their own departments, HR folks are often aware of group initiatives and changes that has occurred company-wide. Accordingly, they will be able to speak to OD issues with unique insights on how changes may impact systems and processes already in place.
3. Training & Development: Research shows that only 20% of the workforce has the skills that will be required ten years from now. That means training and development are guaranteed to be needed at some point of the strategic growth process. Again, HRD folks will be able to speak instantly to any issues, and possibly provide input that could help a company achieve its goals faster.
More reasons exits, but we'll stop there.
The main point is that HR is often thought of as the place to go for employee conflict, employee assistance, or compliance issues. But HR is much more than that, and top management would do themselves and their organizations well if they included HRM and HRD professionals in their strategic planning. There is nothing to lose by doing so, and plenty to gain.