Creating space for HR

by 07 Aug 2007

HR professionals need time and space in order to make a more strategic contribution to business. Craig Donaldson speaks with Chris Mitchell, MD of EDS Australia, about this process and how HR can better work with management

What are your impressions about the business effectiveness of HR?

HR has traditionally been focused much more on the transaction end of supporting business. Whether its pay and compensation, compliance issues or just processes, HR has not always contributed to business in a more strategic way.

I think HR has kind of aspired to that. Obviously some companies are more advanced than others, but I think everybody’s looking at how you can best deploy technology to make sure that HR professionals can spend as much time as they can adding value and getting away from that repetitive, administrative back office stuff.

How does HR work with you as a business partner within EDS?

We’ve been really seeking to make HR much more of a strategic partner to help us get ahead of some key issues. We are in a very competitive industry; the IT industry’s quite competitive for talent, and this war for talent is only expected to get worse.

So talent will continue to be a scarce resource, and we need our HR team to really work with us to get ahead of those issues in terms of what strategies we need to have from a training perspective and from a staff engagement perspective. So how do we really make ourselves an employer of choice, so that we get more than our fair share of those scarce talents?

So we’re very much trying to turn HR into much more of a partner with the business. If you can get technology to support them so that you can free up their time, I think that’s the key. You can’t just expect things to change without making some investments. We have spent the time on putting the investment, technology and online capabilities in, and now HR is in a better position to partner with the business.

What sort of steps can HR take in order to become a more effective business partner?

As an individual, I think it’s about trying to find that headspace and make sure you don’t get trapped in the transactional. It’s kind of a catch-22. You’ve got to have enough time to be strategic to step back from the day-to-day issues, but you can’t do that if you haven’t made some investments in being able to free up the time. There is work you’ve got to do first to create that room. You need to be able to deploy technology to make it as efficient as you can for the necessary transactional processes.

I also think HR has got to have the ability to challenge management and help them to see where HR can add value. You have to get that connect where HR is recognised is a strategic partner to the business. So you’ve got to set up a dialogue between the two. If HR is just seen as a pure support function overhead, I don’t think progress will be made. So you obviously need HR leadership that can articulate how it can add value, to show what processes area available and what they could mean to the business.

And I think there’s a certain amount of personal chemistry – you’ve got to have the right linkage between the HR leadership and the business leadership so that they can work as a team together.

What sort of skills do HR professionals require?

If HR professionals can’t articulate HR strategies with a business return on investment they will largely become irrelevant. So whether it’s getting the retention rate right, getting the training regime right or driving productivity for the leadership team, all things in HR can be aligned to a business outcome. The more HR can do this, the more relevant it becomes, and the more HR can add value to the business itself.

If it’s just seen as a necessary evil – something that’s got to be done to comply with process – I think the point of HR has been largely missed.

What do you think the future of HR will look like?

I would expect that HR will play an increasingly important role, particularly in our industry because of skills shortages.

I’d also expect us to really crack the code in terms of how you can use technology to drive a lot of back office stuff. The technology is there now to enable a lot of self-help processes for managers and employees, but I would expect this to become more sophisticated so that when you need to talk to an HR professional you really need some deep, value-added expertise and assistance.

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