Frugal HR

There was a time when the newspapers were full of the “end of DIY”. We were all so cash rich and time poor that it was much easier to get on the phone (or increasingly the internet) and get someone to come and do it for us. Broken gutter? Kitchen door not working? Skirting board looking a bit 1960s? And within a click or a call we were all good…disposable income spent, time saved, work carried out.

The thing is that underlying this apparently virtuous circle of events was a slightly darker reality. We were slowly becoming unable to carry out these relatively mundane and low skilled tasks. Why learn to do something, when it is quicker and cheaper to call someone in to help? Why bother debasing ourselves to these menial tasks, when we have so much more important things to focus our minds on? Like which of the 96 TV channels we are going to watch an American import on this evening.

But wait. What is this? Is this some attempt at a social critique of our times?

No, not really. Just a cack handed metaphor for the way that I see the HR profession developing. You see, back in the early days of my career, when livestock filled the street, we were all obsessed by the pending devaluation of the florin and Cliff Richard had just had his first number one hit, HR people had to do fairly much everything for themselves. So we weren’t called HR then, but that is another story and one that I don’t have time or space for here.

External consultants were few and far between. Ok, you might pull in a Compensation or Remuneration specialist to help you with your pay strategy, benefit review or a bit of job evaluation, you’d have a Recruitment Advertising Agency that might advise you on your copy or your “house style” and of course your legal advisors to tell you what you shouldn’t do, but not what you should do (there are a range of options…..). But that was fairly much it. The rest, you used your internal knowledge, your external networks and if you couldn’t get the answer, you researched and created.

Of course, that was after the last recession and budgets were tight. But as young HR professionals we learnt to turn our hands to a number of things. We might not have been experts, but we knew a bit about fairly much everything.

L&D? Check. Resourcing? Check. Employee Relations? Check.

And here is a thing…..we used to represent the company at Tribunal ourselves.

Over time I’ve seen things shift. Partly because the economy picked up and we had more “disposable cash” in our budgets, partly because we were being constantly bombarded with articles and case studies about companies that had implemented x, y and z (the organisational equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses) normally instigated by the suppliers with the sole aim of showing their wares in the market place and drumming up more business and partly because of the shift to the Business Partner model which led HR generalists to think that they were too strategic and important to sully their hands with the likes of practical HR solutions when they could be sitting in meetings talking about……stuff.

Rather than reskill the profession, which is what many would like us to believe, in many cases we have instead deskilled the profession. There is only so much room for strategic thinking within human resources. So what value is being added by the others?

In the same way that many of us have to learn to tighten our belts at home, to rediscover lost skills for cooking, sewing, mending, fixing, creating….the current economic situation offers an opportunity for HR professionals to really hone their skills and to become proper generalists. There will always be a need for external support and guidance, but that will never beat the learning of new skills, the development of our own abilities and the broadening of our own talent profiles.

There is time to think about the greater bigger issues of the workplace, there is a need to consider the greater strategic issues of the day, but a good HR professional also knows what great looks like and how to deliver it themselves. Being practical, being hands on, these aren’t bad things. The sooner we get the balance back in our professional lives the better.

And given the economic environment that we’re in there is no better moment to start than right now. And who knows, we might all have a little bit of fun in the learning process too! Now who could argue against that?

HR isn’t Marketing, it is unique

“There are so many similarities between Marketing and HR” seems to be one of the hot phrases and concepts at the moment. For this I read, “HR can learn a lot from Marketing”. From this I read, “I want to play with the cool kids and the cool kids play in Marketing”.

Are there really a lot of similarities between HR and Marketing? Well only if you have a rather narrow and ill-defined concept of both HR and Marketing, then yes. Sure there are elements of cross over, it would be hard to think that on employer branding or indeed on some other areas of recruitment that there wasn’t something that the HR profession could take from Marketing. And if you look at employee engagement, then of course I there are definite synergies.

But to suggest that these elements are the only aspects of either Marketing or HR that exist seems slightly bizarre. I’m not going to dissect the Marketing profession; I’ll leave that to someone else with more time. HR professionals would be better off stopping chasing the perceived sexiness of one profession (there is NOTHING sexy about the dirty end of product marketing I can tell you) and instead look at the entire remit of an HR role

–          Compensation, benefits and remuneration strategy

–          Industrial relations, trade unions and collective negotiations

–          Employee relations, individual dispute resolution

–          Learning and development

–          Talent management and career planning

–          Health and Welfare

–          Organisational development

–          Organisational design and structure

–          Recruitment and selection

–          Coaching and facilitation

The list feels almost endless and of course highly variable depending on the industry and the organisation.  The thing is, HR has the potential to be one of the truly multi disciplinary roles within the business, with elements of Finance, Sales, Strategy, PR and yes Marketing to name but a few. We may be specialists in certain areas, but we are generalists in the true sense of the word.

Valuable HR teams work collaboratively with all functions and departments, not just on their HR needs, but also on the entire people offering – pulling in specialist skills that add to projects or initiatives or even simple thought processes and planning.

True HR professionals don’t just want to play with the sexy, they want to play with the valuable and sometimes that means being a geek or a nerd.  And that’s ok. Just ask your friends in the bowels of the Marketing department, they know all about that.