The full circle of HR

by 04 Mar 2008

By Craig Donaldson

The need for HR to become more business-focused has been evident for a number of years now. As HR is gradually becoming more of a strategic function, the role of HR naturally changes in the business.

In this process HR has taken on a number of different names over the years, which are reflective of its changing roles. In a very cursory history of HR, it started out as ‘personnel’, then evolved into HR, and is in the process of moving to HR business partners or human capital in some of the more advanced (often US-based) organisations. A new trend has been emerging for some time now, which is reflected in names such as ‘people and culture’, where HR takes on more of a holistic role that encompasses some of its previous focus in addition to a strong role in the business.

We received a number of emails in response to our last editorial note, which opined on the findings of a UK survey which found that line managers were less than impressed with HR business partners and their ability to assist in real business matters. Some emails supported the note, others took issue with the findings, while some offered a viewpoint that there was a need for HR to wear both the hats of the employee and employer.

There is a very valid argument in this. HR is naturally in a position to focus on issues around employees, such as recruitment, retention, development and the like. From a business perspective, HR has budgets like any other function, and needs a strong understanding of the financial and business implications of any HR initiatives. At the same time, the importance of ‘warm and fuzzy’ issues like culture are becoming more obvious to business, and issues such as these naturally fit well with HR.

So it would appear that HR is coming full circle in a sense. Some HR departments are still playing catch up with business strategy, while others are at the point where they’re embracing a more holistic view of people. In speaking with numerous HR professionals, the road to becoming more strategic is often rocky and challenging, but they all agree that it is well worth it, both personally and professionally, when both they and the businesses they work in are willing and able to take a more holistic view of HR.

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