This is a question often asked and, from my perspective, one not often answered well.
That’s because there are a number of factors at play here and here are some that come to mind.
You get what you ask for
The first hypothesis that I want to put to you is that the HR function (it’s focus, responsibilities, purpose, activities, relationships etc) is the product of the business owners and/or board and/or senior executive – their philosophies, priorities and perspectives on what HR is and is there for in the context of the particular business setting.
For example, on my first day as HR Manager in one business, my boss, the Manufacturing Manager, said to me “It is great to have you on board, we have missed having someone to get us out of trouble!” “Ouch!” but clearly the focus for the business and the bulk of my activities were going to be on risk management and conflict resolution. That proved to be the case.
What that means is that the business gets exactly what it asks for in HR and, most of the time, that is not what (or not all of what) the business really needs.
The HR hierarchy
Having worked with hundreds of organisations over many years, I have identified 4 tiers of HR (the 4Cs which underpin our consulting model at Ridgeline HR) and these are:
C1: Commitment – we do what we need to provide direction and meet legal obligations
C2: Capability – we have implemented systems to assist in HRM
C3: Competency – we have trained our managers to manage their people appropriately
C4: Culture – we have strategies which engage and develop our people to deliver results
This leads me to my second hypothesis – 80% of Australian businesses have not progressed beyond C1/C2. Their focus is on compliance and risk management, on record keeping and avoidance of complaints, unfair dismissal claims etc, rather than on organisational development and employee engagement.
What that means for most HR Departments is that compliance is the focus and HR is therefore seen by the business as a compliance cost and not a value adding performance enabler. It is hard to get excited about cost!
I am a human being!
Now to my third hypothesis – we are human beings (not just human resources) and we want to do a good job. We want to have a sense of purpose, we want to feel that we are contributing to and are part of something worthwhile, we want to have dignity and pride in our work regardless of our station and we want to feel valued and recognized for our contributions.
Bearing this in mind, let’s revisit the 4Cs looking at them from an employee’s perspective:
C1: Commitment – I know what is expected of me.
C2: Capability – I am provided with the tools, equipment and systems I need to do my job.
C3: Competency – I receive the training and support that I need to do my job well.
C4: Culture – I understand how I contribute to our success and I am empowered to do it.
Again, I believe that most Australian employees would see themselves as being at C1-C2 because that is where their employers position them and these are the key HR messages being sent to people – comply, do what is expected and we won’t have any problems with you. Not really inspiring stuff, is it?
What this means is that organisations’ expectations and HR messages to its human resources are far too often at odds with our needs and values as human beings – and that is why we don’t get good employee engagement.
And we are not learning
There is a huge body of research which tells us emphatically that the key to productivity improvement, in generating that discretionary effort on the part of our people, in encouraging innovation and discovering new and better ways to work in all sorts of fields is employee engagement.
Yet our current national debate on productivity is centered firmly on employment laws and costs rather than contemporary thinking on what makes a productive business and a great workplace and the importance of good leadership and employee engagement in this regard.
If our national industry leaders don’t get it, it is no wonder that HR Departments struggle to engage with it, let alone deliver it!
Do we have the will?
It is much safer to stay in the compliance space – after all:
- It is the law or the customer or the government or someone else who makes the rules, isn’t it, and therefore they (not us) are responsible for the rules, right? and
- If we have told everyone what the rules are and they haven’t complied with them, that is their fault (not ours), right?
Or are we prepared to take on the realities of what our people really think about our organization and do something constructive about it?
Are we prepared to consult with people to inform them, to obtain their input into decision-making and to get them engaged in conversations as part of the culture or will we continue to just consult them as and when required to under employment and workplace health and safety laws?
Are we prepared to invest in their development and wellbeing in a meaningful way as opposed to just doing what we have to in training and workplace health and safety?
I could go on but you get the picture, I’m sure.
So are you in the 80% who need to change and, if so, do you have the will to make it happen?
Things won’t turn around overnight but they will turnaround if you have the will to persist.
There are plenty of good tools and resources around to help and a couple of my favourites are https://www.investorsinpeople.com/https://www.investorsinpeople.com/ and www.engageforsuccess.org. All free stuff – enjoy.