Refocussing HR…..on employees

I’m constantly reminded about the need for HR to “refocus”. I get it. I hear it at conferences, in journals, on social media. We need to refocus. That’s great. Normally the schtick is based one of two things,

We need to be externally focussed.

We need to be commercially focussed.

Both are true and yet both are incomplete assessments of the state of HR.  The missing piece for me, the area that we should not speak, the real truth is,

We need to be more employee focussed.

If you speak to anyone in a consumer facing marketing function, they will wax lyrical about the need to focus on that consumer, to understand their behaviour, to open the channels of communication with them, to have a dialogue and to serve (yes, I said serve) them better.

But when we come to the world of people management, it appears we feel that employees are somewhat of an inconvenience that get in the way of good HR practice. If only it wasn’t for these pesky folk, we’d be doing great things.

Yes we need to be commercially minded and we need to understand the context in which our organisations operate. Yes we need to be confident with the financial aspects of our business and the economic conditions. But we also need to remember that our primary purpose as a function is to understand our employees’ needs better than anyone else. And to serve those needs.

I have a simple test, a simple analytic that I’ve built up over a few years when assessing what we’re doing and whether it is worthwhile. Ask yourself three questions,

Does it make life better for employees?

Does it make things simpler for managers?

Does it add tangible value to the business?

And if you can’t say yes to one of these three questions, then you should simply stop doing it. 

Here is my challenge to you, give it a go, ask yourself those questions. You’ll be surprised what you find.


  1. changinghr · June 23, 2014

    “You should simply stop doing it” is the one core element of HR down the years that we seem the least capable of doing. Good blog as always.

    • Neil · June 29, 2014

      Why is that? Lack of confidence? Unwilling to admit defeat?

  2. hrmannz · June 23, 2014

    Well said Sir!

  3. amandasterling · June 23, 2014

    Is this just like being business minded though? Any business minded person worth their salt knows that your customers pay the bills. I believe you can break that down to internal customers too. Your employees are your internal customers who then supply goods or services to your external customers, thus the circle of life continues.

    • Neil · June 29, 2014

      So who is the internal customer? The manager or the employee being managed?

      • amandasterling · July 2, 2014

        Both are customers. It just looks a little different for each.

      • Neil · July 5, 2014

        Hmmm, I’m not so sure…..

  4. broc.edwards · June 27, 2014

    Neil, those are three great questions and a fantastic way of approaching both HR and business. With the focus there, almost all discussion about being strategic, adding business value, etc. is unnecessary (why talk about it when we’re actually doing it).

    It seems to be a jump for many in HR (or any field with internal customers) to think about the people they support as actual customers, but perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising. After all, how many retail businesses out there don’t fully grasp the concept of customer service? It should be utter common sense to put the focus on the customer, yet they treat the customer like an interruption and keep their focus on their policy, process, or what the computer is telling them instead of considering how to make life better (or even just less painful) for the external customer. It is often difficult for HR pros to think like business people, but it’s also often difficult for business people to think like business people.

    Of course, it all circles around to the simple philosophy that the customer experience rarely exceeds the employee experience. If business people (and HR) truly understood business from a customer service perspective, I suspect the employee experience would move to the top of the priority list.

    • Neil · June 29, 2014

      That’s a great point Broc. And worse, we talk a lot about candidate experience and not enough about employee experience. Yesterday we were hiring, today you’re staff.

  5. dougshaw · June 28, 2014

    Hi Neil – thanks for this blog post.

    I’m drawn to the three questions – I like them, and yet I can’t help but feel that if everything you, me, anyone does has to pass this test, then we’re missing something. I hope there’s still room in the world of work to ask the three questions and still progress when sometimes the answer is ‘it might do’ rather than a hard yes/no go/stop.

    And I also wonder how these questions would be reacted to beyond HR? Trust needs to play its part – as soon as someone in HR asks the question ‘Does it make life better for employees?’ – they first have to be trusted for the question to land with good intent. Sorry – I’m not being very clear….I guess that from experience, I see many many people who don’t trust HR. They see HR as on the side of the employer, and would instinctively view such a question with suspicion. I will play with these questions beyond HR and see what I can learn.

    Thanks for stirring my brain this morning.

    Cheers – Doug

    • Neil · June 29, 2014

      Maybe replace “does it” with “could it”. You make a fair challenge, this isn’t about certitude, but about focus.

  6. Pingback: Essential HR marketing | change-effect

Leave a Reply to amandasterling Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s