CIPD: It’s a well known crucible of HR that you have to get the transactional stuff – like hiring people and paying them on time – right,” says Perry Timms, founder and director of People and Transformational HR. “It’s core to everything HR should do to enable a business to flourish through its people.”
But making the leap from being the trusted team that hires, fires and keeps the employer out of court to one that also makes a visible contribution to the bottom line still makes HR professionals nervous. When Martyn Dicker joined charity Fairtrade as its HR director, there had been a chronic lack of investment in HR and the team was focused on the transactional side.
“It would have been easy for me to just let it tick over, with the team focusing all its energy on core HR work, but I was determined and ambitious about what we could achieve,” he says. “We pulled it all apart and have focused our energy on putting it back together in a way that meets business needs.”
Many organisations have embraced the Ulrich model of a shared service centre, with centres of excellence and business partners working on the strategic side, but this doesn’t always solve one of the key issues: if managers can be empowered to sort simple people issues out for themselves, HR is really freed up to add value.
“The moment managers don’t have someone next door to dump things on, there will be a period when they look for somewhere else to dump that pain,” says Martin Tiplady, former Met Police HR director and founder of Chameleon People Solutions. “Organisations need to recognise that and support managers with some sort of weaning period, rather than just flicking a switch.”
Mike Williams, director of people development at De Vere Hotels and Village Urban Resorts, agrees. The company has moved to a structure where managers deal with as much of the transactional HR remit as possible, and regional people and development managers step in if issues escalate. “If you focus on developing managers’ competencies, develop well thought-out, engaging toolkits for them and support and coach them, everything improves.”
Convincing the CEO that HR is capable of moving beyond basic processes may not always be straightforward. Dicker has built his CEO’s confidence in HR by ensuring his team is part of strategic planning with other heads of department and has a voice in the wider decision-making process. At De Vere, sites where managers deal with their own process issues tend to have better engagement scores, and this is linked to better customer service. It’s a language the leader can understand.
The temptation to take over and “control” transactional HR issues still might not go away, but it’s important to let go. Try not to get dragged into the day-to-day, advises Williams. With the systems running smoothly underneath, HR can get on with helping to really add value rather than tick boxes.