What is the role of HR?

Regardless of the size of your business you may at times wonder what the exact role of HR is for your business. Like any support function or any function not directly linked to generating revenue, questions get asked (and should be asked) about why the function exists and what it does for the business.

Many of you as clients are agile and small organisations who come to Broadspring Consulting for advice on handling people challenges or company growth that are outside the skill and time of your current management and administration team. An article in the HR news this week has put forward the view that companies with more than 30 employees should have at least two HR staff: one administrator and one manager/strategic advisor.

Other companies hold the view that human resource management is the responsibility of the line manager and that a dedicated HR function should be there only if needed for serious issues.

The main question is probably coming up now because of the Harvey Weinstein case – as well as Uber and Google and tech start up in the US. When things go wrong (such as sexual harassment and bullying) and then go public one of the first questions is “where was HR?”

Rather than waiting for something to go wrong before you ask that question, it’s a good idea to consider the role of HR in your business. Plan it out like any other function.

  1. HR often is the place where payroll is processed, records and kept and leave is managed. This is an administration and transactional level of support only. Is this enough for your business? How skilled are other staff including line managers at dealing with higher level HR matters?
  2. HR as coach and support to managers. Engaging HR expertise to coach and develop the people management skills in your leaders as well as having the administration taken care of. Who can you hire into HR who has those skills? How much support do your managers need?
  3. HR as strategic advisor and guide. Sitting alongside the CEO/GM and senior leadership team, HR and people are discussed in the same strategic manner as business planning. How much demand do you have for that level of interaction? Can your business afford that full time salary at this stage? (If not, how else can you buy in that strategic advice?)

Where do employees go when they have queries or need support? The above options are all from a business perspective, but a robust HR function is equally about the employees as it is about the managers. As has been seen in a number of recent Australian cases, including Channel 7, not all HR departments effectively balance the service and support to employees and to senior management. In fact HR are often the true “middle man”

  1. HR and payroll can provide information about leave balances and policy. Who notices the trends in employee questions and what they may mean? (A number of employees in a team with a new manager who ask about leave balances can be a sign of a problem)
  2. HR can provide support and guidance to employees when they have problems. Not automatically “taking their side”, but providing a structured and supportive  environment where an issue can be discussed and the appropriate action/response noted and chosen.
  3. HR can provide leadership and role modelling to staff at all levels. Role modelling of appropriate behaviour and how to “call out” inappropriate behaviour.

When you think of your business and your HR needs it’s also important to consider

  • the stage of the business. Many small to medium businesses have the lower level of HR as staff (some outsource payroll) and then buy in the more strategic guidance as needed
  • the skills of leaders. Many businesses have structured their HR model to meet the skill needs of their managers – more strategic and coaching input when leaders need to grow their people management skills
  • plans for the business. Many businesses embed strategic HR early in order to effectively position for the next phase of growth and change.

We hope that this article can broaden your view of what HR can (and should) do for your business and invite you to be an active manager of HR activity in your business.