People as product

by 03 Apr 2007

The effectiveness of HR can be determined by the extent to which its strategies extend to servicing clients. Melissa Yen speaks with Jones Lang LaSalle CEO Christine Bartlett about the skills HR needs to bring to the table

What are your impressions about the business effectiveness of HR in general?

HR is absolutely critical in providing the best service to clients. They are key to ensuring you have the right people with the right skills, that they’re engaged, that they like where they work, that they’re motivated and therefore delivering a great service to clients. So, in my mind, HR is absolutely a critical linchpin in being able to help deliver that service to clients.

Does HR work with you effectively as a business partner in achieving these priorities?

Being a services provider within the commercial property arena, our people are our product and what we take to the market. We can only be as good as the skills that our people are able to take to our clients.

Within the property industry, Australia is actually a leader in the commercial property area. So what we’re seeing is the war for talent, not just only on a local basis, but also internationally. The growth is now starting to take place in China, India and Dubai, draining resources out of Australia, particularly in the property sector to fuel their growth. So it’s a challenge to make sure that we’re attracting and retaining the talent we need to be an effective service provider in this market.

I think we have changed the working relationship with HR. We’ve made it a much closer working relationship with the executive team and the business lines. Last year we really focused on recruitment, making sure that we were bringing on people who had the right cultural fit for Jones Lang LaSalle. What we’ve been able to do, by making sure that we’re conducting a much more thorough process in recruitment, is to ensure that when people join us, their expectations of the role they’ll be taking and the type of work they’ll be doing are all explained in the recruitment process so that we’re not losing people within the first six to 12 months of joining the firm. We’ve actually been able to reduce the number of people we lose earlier on by combating that potential miscommunication in the recruitment process.

HR also plays a key role in learning and development, which falls into career development. In our industry, compensation is also very important. Are we paying our people the right amount? Is it market value? What retention mechanisms do we need to be putting in place to retain our top talent? That clearly is an absolutely strategic part for HR to make sure that we’re retaining the best and the brightest.

Our head of HR is part of our Australian management team. So we obviously meet on a regular basis and our head of HR is at all of those meetings. So the benefit of that is they understand intimately the issues that the business is facing and therefore what we need from HR to help us address some of the business issues that we’re dealing with. I think it’s absolutely critical that for HR to be effective, they’re highly engaged with the business and understand the business.

What do you think holds HR back from working effectively as a business partner?

If I’ve seen HR fail, usually it’s because they’re disconnected from the business and they don’t understand how they can best assist the business. I think when HR is aligned with the business, aware of the focus items and what is driving the bottom line, that’s when they can be most engaged and most effective in supporting the business.

The only other thing I’ve seen happen is that when HR isn’t closely aligned with the business, they will come out with programs that miss the mark, and that just further drives a wedge between the business and what can be termed a support function like HR. In my view, HR is my absolute strategic partner. However, there are some organisations that may perhaps be more a product-orientated organisation where it’s not a people services organisation – where people are your product – and that is where you may not see that strategic value in HR.

What steps does HR need to take in order to become an effective business partner with you and your function?

I think number one is definitely alignment with the business. I think HR needs to take the time to meet individually with each of the business line heads. In my case, I run a matrix of state managing directors and business line heads and HR need to make the time to understand the specific drivers that affect people within each of those states and within each of those business lines. I think they can bring value to those business lines by bringing insights into what is happening with the people in those states and business lines.

As an example, when do we have the highest attrition? We have attrition after what period of time with the company? Where are we having our highest attrition? Are we losing more men than women? What is the demographic make-up of our workforce?

I think HR have an ability to take our state managing directors and our business line leaders by the shoulders and give them a little bit of a wake-up call and a shake and say ‘Hey, do you realise this is happening?’.

One of the things we have looked at is a tool the chief executive women have launched called the CEO kit. That has been great in terms of getting the facts on the table about what’s going on within our workforce. It’s a great mechanism for flushing out and getting to a level of detail that could otherwise be masked in your organisation. As an example, our workforce is about 47 per cent female, 53 per cent male. You look at that and you say, ‘Wow, isn’t that great!’ But when you start to dig down and do a little bit by bit analysis by state and business line, that starts to put things in perspective in terms of where the women and men are, with regard to levels, time in their jobs, promotions, and all of that. It is important to go down to that next level of detail to really understand what’s going on.