The Heart of HR

Human resources has been referred to by some as the heart of a business.  This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has ever been a practitioner.  The role was once described to me, quite accurately I think, as part parent, part pastor.  Within HR, though, is often another layer of complexity, an internal ecosystem that centers on the HR shared services team.  They are very often the difference between employees cursing HR  and not even knowing it exists.  Which, when you get right down to it, is kind of what you want.  When employees talk to the HR help desk team, that means they aren’t working.  And the longer they aren’t working, the more your HR costs.  The best case, then, is that employees don’t ever talk to HR, and when they do it is brief and not memorable (except for being brief).

I’ve compared what we know as a traditional HR Shared Services department, often built on the Ulrich model, to the days of Henry Ford.  Ford’s approach moved from craftsmen who could build a car to line workers who could perform a small operation, the sum of which would be a car.  In our tiered HR shared services departments, we ask tier one to handle the bulk of the employee interaction, while putting our least experienced team members on the job, leading to inconsistent answers and high turnover.  Those with more experience and tenure usually live in tier two or three, and can only be reached through lengthy navigation of the process chain.  There is a fundamental flaw in this thinking, I believe, and it leads to poor service, dissatisfied employees and, long term, the loss of some very talented people from the HR profession.

I am a big believer, instead, in the Toyota approach of building a process that includes upstream, downstream and external stakeholders.  To make this work, we have to stop thinking of the HR help desk team as the filter of less important issues, staffed with lesser talent, and instead involved them in development of talent strategies, benefits development and recruiting goals.  As the face of your HR department, they should be the best educated and most well rounded members of the team, able to step into any other functional HR group and contribute when needed.  Because they are, in fact, a member of every other functional HR group.

How do you develop your team?  Are your tier one team members looked upon as the future of the profession, or as the low cost version of what HR used to be?  They are the future, and should be treated as such.  If you aren’t already, now is a really good time to start.

(I should also mention, of course, that a good knowledge base and case management system can help build just such an environment in short order, but hopefully you’ve already got that in place.  If not, you might want to look around a bit while you are here and check out what we do.  But mostly I’m not mentioning it because I don’t want to distract from the message.  You can always call us if you have questions.)

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