Recruitment & Retention Opinion

New (Strategic) Face of HR

By Emily Douglas-McNab — November 14, 2011 3 min read
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Human Resource departments across the country in business, non-profits and education are working to give themselves a makeover. HR offices were once known as “Personnel” departments before they morphed into “Human Resources” in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, a number of HR groups are changing names again. Google’s HR branch is called “People Operations”. I recently learned that the HR department within Honda’s Research and Development arm changed its name to the “Office of Talent Management”. In education, I have worked with district HR offices that now call themselves the “Office of Human Capital”. Some of you may look at this shift and think, “Who cares?” It’s just semantics, right? Indeed, as William Shakespeare would argue, “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Yet, it’s not just the names of HR departments that are changing, but their roles and functions as well.

Historically, Personnel departments were transactional bodies that kept records, posted jobs, checked time-cards and processed payroll. While needed, it is said that these tasks do not add much value or generate cost savings for an organization. Even after changing names a few decades ago, many HR departments continued to serve as standalone, siloed operations, and HR directors were rarely invited to meetings with financial and operations executives. This narrow focus worked for some organizations. But others began to experiment with the idea of HR being more than just storing papers, processing new hire paperwork, and ensuring legal compliance. From that, strategic HR was born. Under this new model, HR has a seat at the executive table right next to the chief operations, finance, and marketing officers. They work hand-in-hand to lead, manage, grow and reward an organization’s most important asset, its people.

Many businesses and non-profit organizations have had great success by viewing HR through a strategic lens. Take a look at Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Places to Work. It’s full of well-known for-profit and non-profit groups like SAS, DreamWorks, Zappos, Whole Foods, Build-A-Bear, Four Seasons Hotels, the Mayo Clinic, Hasbro (toys), and Starbucks that approach HR strategically. What do they all note as the key to their success? Their people...

Strategic HR works to align human resources operations to organizational goals. It is proactive, not reactive. Organizations that strategically invest in their people create more satisfied, engaged and loyal employees, which ultimately leads to better outcomes. In schools, that could mean more effective teaching and greater student progress. Below is a list of transactional HR activities versus the components of a strategic HR system:

Transactional HR Activities
• Record Keeping
• Time & Attendance
• Pre-employment Testing
• Employment Form Management
• Policy Handbook Creation & Updates
• Safety Compliance
• Benefits Enrollment
• COBRA Administration
• Payroll Processing
• Drug Screening
• Employee Training

Strategic HR Activities
• Organization Strategic Planning
• Data-driven Employee Sourcing, Recruitment, Selection, Onboarding, & job-specific training or development
• Performance Management
• Compensation System Development & Management
• Organizational Development & Leadership
• Work - Life Balance Programs
• Employee Engagement, Satisfaction, & Loyalty
• Career & Succession Planning
• Organization Efficiency & Effectiveness Measures & Programs
• HR Brand Management

So, what’s in a name? Personally, I’d say not much. I’ve seen and worked with highly successful Personnel departments and struggling and unsuccessful Human Capital and Talent Management offices. So, whether you call it human resources, talent management, human capital, people operations, or even personnel, the success (or failure) of an HR system comes down to how well it supports people and the overall strategic goals of an organization.

Does your school district empower its HR department to be strategic?

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