To Change or not to Change? by Cascade HR's managing director




To change or not to change, what is the cost?

Cascade HR’s managing director Alan Jones debates the extent to which Human Resources must change to survive, and considers the role that HR practitioners must play in ensuring businesses emerge from the downturn stronger than ever...

Critics – and indeed Human Resources advocates – have long argued that HR needs change to survive. And they have a point. With developments occurring constantly within the employment industry and wider business environment, HR cannot afford to stand still. Like many facets of business it must continue to evolve so that it can deliver the right information to the right people at the right time, and to ensure it doesn’t become outpaced by other, perhaps more widely appreciated business departments.

However one must consider the extent to which HR has already begun to change.

The role of HR has developed far beyond the responsive and administrative necessities of maintaining employee records and documenting absences. On the contrary, if effectively managed and underpinned by innovative systems, a multifaceted HR function has the potential to include the roles of strategic partner, administrative expert, employee champion and change agent. To label it a somewhat stagnant profession is therefore unfair because in truth HR now has the ability to make an increasingly important, proactive and strategic contribution in the boardroom.

But because difficulty lies in quantifying, proving and promoting the ways with which HR can make this strategic contribution, can add value and can truly reap commercial advantage, it is perhaps no wonder that these misconceptions still exist.

Benefits to the bottom-line have always been sought from HR, yet the need for transparency and financial justification within the function has leapt to the fore somewhat in recent times of austerity. During the downturn an increasing number of HR departments have been asked to verify their worth – a trend set to continue as companies seek to ‘futureproof’ themselves from further economic turbulence.

Those of us with specific insight in this arena therefore have a duty of care to share our knowledge so that HR professionals can attribute the pivotal role they’re playing in helping businesses emerge from the recession stronger than ever.

But what value do HR professionals add and how can this be demonstrated? Defined measurement is key, as anecdotal claims will not carry enough weight in the current climate. An analysis of factors such as absence figures, sickness days, staff turnover, reporting times and recruitment costs for example, is needed so that the HR team understands the situation at a given point in time and has a point of comparative reference going forwards. Milestones must then be set so that the analysis becomes a routine process, and achievements can be monitored and noted. As a by-product, such a dedication to quantifying potential added value from the outset often also plays a pivotal factor in developing the ‘business case’ for further investment in the HR department, should this be needed.

The next challenge, and perhaps the greatest one of all, is to ‘sell’ ongoing results internally so that the entire organisation culturally engages with, and fully supports the HR team. It must be communicated that HR is a proactive function, working in alignment with the rest of the business and in fact creating a strategic buzz of its own.

In an era of ever-advancing technological capabilities, gathering and subsequently sharing this all-important information need not be a chore. More importantly though, intuitive technology in fact actually exists to help generate this added value in the first place. A reluctance to embrace technology within HR perhaps stems from the uninspiring, rigid and costly databases that have existed within the industry until very recently. However modern intelligent HR systems now exist which ‘push’ processes, generate opportunities, facilitate change and quickly become another valued member of the HR team.

When delving a little deeper, it is therefore clear that human resources applications have grown to become important business applications too. Sixty-nine per cent of respondents to a Cascade client survey reported improved HR department efficiencies following the implementation of intuitive technology. One specifically pinpointed that key HR staff are each saving approximately one working day per week, which equates to 3,000 hours – or up to £40,000 – saved per year.

At the same time, this reduced administration workload allows HR professionals to concentrate on more meaningful relationships with staff – truly a firm’s most valuable asset. When considering recent research statistics revealed by management consultants Hays – which suggest UK workers are the most disengaged in Western Europe – the retention and development of skilled, motivated and committed employees is more important now than ever.

So it really is the time for HR to come to the fore as a respected, value-adding function which can fully support and in fact influence the future direction of an organisation. But before others can truly appreciate the strategic contribution HR has to offer, HR professionals themselves need to blow their own trumpet.