Few parts of an organization attract more criticism than the poor old human resource department. Whether or not this is justified, it is also the case that many managers misunderstand or ignore the potential strategic partner they have in their HR department. But once their value is understood, HR people can add a lot to a company's bottom line if you let them.
Most of us view human resources as the person - or department - that takes care of procedures and compliance things like compensation and benefits, employee assistance and labor relations. That's only part of the picture, and it's also only one side of the HR profession; the side called human resource management (HRM).
On the other side of the profession is human resource development (HRD). These people specialize in organizational development, training and development, and career development.
Naturally, some duties are performed by both HRM and HRD, such as staffing and selection, performance management systems, human resource planning, and organizational/job design.
Now that you know there's a difference, here's the secret: Incorporating input from both sides of HR can propel your organization to higher levels of productivity, quality, and innovation. But if you expect one side to do the job of the other, you'll find yourself frustrated. Organizations need the skills brought by both HRM and HRD.
Not knowing that both of these specialties exist within the HR realm has led to some unfair castigation of the profession. One of the best-known diatribes appeared in Fast Company magazine a few years back. Why We Hate HR put HR through a meat grinder, some of it for effect, some of it true.
In the piece, the editor accused HR of not being strategic players. He portrayed them to be either without business acumen, or whips of the accounting department when personnel cuts need to be made.
As someone who's been a consultant for more than 25 years, I can't tell you how many businesses I've worked with where executives weren't allowing their senior HR professional into the boardroom, and they were paying high prices for their mistake. HR professionals are the perfect people to give input to staffing and training issues when the C-suite is discussion expansion or making changes to company operations.
I remember one HR professional giving me a huge "thank you" after I convinced his CEO to give him a seat at their weekly executive meeting. "I've been trying to get in there for years," he told me. "We've been wasting so much time and effort patching holes in their plans because we don't have my input at the outset."
The editor of Fast Company also blasted HR for not providing strategic training. It's a common complaint, but one born out of the mistaken belief that HR is just one big umbrella, and anyone working in HR has been trained in both HRM and HRD responsibilities. It turns out that the Fast Company editor wrote his scathing article while attending a national convention for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Had he been attending the convention for the American Society for Training and Development (for HRD folk), he would have seen a lot of presentations on the subject of strategic planning. Stated plainly, he was blaming HRM for not doing HRD's job.
It's been my observation that companies make their biggest HR mistakes thinking that HRM people are fully trained to do HRD's responsibilities. HRM is definitely the more prominent of the two specialties, but that doesn't mean they can carry both loads, even if they knew how.
Most HR Managers I know are so bogged down in the legal aspects of employment compliance that they barely have time to develop job descriptions, let alone develop or deliver any job training, let alone training that will create a lasting impact. As anyone in the HRD profession will tell you, the ability to stand up and talk does not mean you're training.
Overcoming these misunderstandings and bridging the HR gaps is necessary for any company's success. Why? Because at the heart of all workplace and management issues are people. Therefore it's people who make or break the bottom line.
My term for involving HR at all levels of operations is "strategic alignment." Here's the framework: HR needs to be right alongside the executives as a flag bearer for the company's vision and mission statement.
HR needs the freedom to evaluate and provide input for the organization's structure. It needs the time and support from management to use a solid screening and hiring process, so the right people are identified and strategically placed.
HR needs support from the executive suite to identify and provide needed training that helps the organization meet its strategic goals whether that training is designed from within or contracted from without. That training also needs to be evaluated and adjusted as necessary for optimal effectiveness. HR needs the ability to implement an effective performance management system so all teams and departments stay on track with meeting an organization's objectives.
The key thing to remember is this: Most HRM people are not trained in HRD responsibilities, and the same is true in reverse. If you want to implement strategic alignment, both HRM and HRD functions are needed. Misunderstanding or underutilizing either side of the HR profession can be a costly oversight.