Human resource management is not a new function, but it is one that has seen an evolution in recent years. Some, though certainly not all, companies have come to understand that HR ought not to be thought of as merely administrative or reactionary, but core to strategic planning and therefore worthy of consideration in the executive suite. The events of 2020 have only served to bring this sharply into focus.
Human Resources as Strategic Contributor
“Many of us grew up in businesses where HR was the adult version of the principal’s office,” writes Chad Biagini for Forbes. “You met with HR on day one when you signed employment paperwork (and) only returned when you were in trouble, when you wanted to get someone else in trouble or perhaps with the occasional benefits question.”1
Today’s boardroom will often hear from a Chief Human Resources Officer, who not only dutifully reports on the department’s goings on, but contributes strategically to conversations about retention, structure, culture, diversity, training and recruitment. HR’s evolution follows in the footsteps of the marketing department, which has used data and analytics to evolve from a feel good function to one that can present demonstrable value to the bottom line.
As human resources leader Julia Modise wrote “The profile of a CHRO has shifted from a traditional HR professional narrowly focused on his/her function to a well-rounded business leader who can contribute meaningfully in all areas of the business. Today’s CHRO is a culture carrier and change agent who is commercially astute, analytical and technologically savvy, who speaks truth to power and influences softly yet assertively.2
Human Resources in the Age of Covid-19
It has often been said of basketball legend Michael Jordan that ‘you can’t hope to stop him, only to contain him.’ As politicians and the medical community scrambled to react to Covid-19, Human Resources could only seek to limit the damage that the unprecedented and unpredictable situation wrought upon their companies.
The responsibilities undertaken by HR have run the gambit from immediate and functional in nature to long term and visionary. Guiding the transition to remote work and, in some cases, back to the office again has involved careful planning, administrative analysis, legal consideration and well considered communications, often performed without the luxury of time.
But what of the long term questions? When it comes to remote working, the proverbial horse is out of the barn; even companies that don’t wish to continue the trend in the long term will have to accept that their policies on the practice will impact their brand as an employer. Decisions regarding office space investment, even the extent to which a company will consider hiring talent in other cities, will depend upon their ability or willingness to structure the company for remote work. When making such consequential decisions, it’s important to hear from those with their finger on the pulse of the workforce.
“I truly believe HR’s moment is now,” says Rogers CHRO Jim Reid. “HR has been at the forefront of COVID response in the workplace and it plays a more critical role than ever. Those HR teams that have stepped into the crisis and partnered with leaders to set the tone for the organization have a big opportunity to shape culture and drive business performance.3
Human Resources and Diversity
Another issue at the forefront in 2020 is that of diversity and inclusion. While efforts by many companies to address systematic racism and bias pre-date the current year, the spotlight on inequality has never been brighter and ignoring the problem is not an option. It’s another example of a big picture objective that requires a significant contribution from Human Resources.
“HR executives can play a crucial role by implementing initiatives and leading the C-suite and managers away from unconscious bias or inadvertent racism or bigotry,” writes Diane Harrington for SmartBrief.4
“It takes a lot to bring change,” says consultant and speaker Risha Grant. “But if you don’t … you’re looking at a company that won’t be there in the near future.”5
HR in the C Suite
What the above demonstrates is that decisions made without the involvement of HR run the risk of missing the mark. Workplace culture and policy are central to recruitment and retention. Employee development and training initiatives will be ongoing concerns as industries evolve with societal and technological advancements. Introducing these changes effectively to staff will require diligence as well as tact. An HR representative, particularly one who invests in their own development by schooling themselves in other disciplines such as marketing and finance, represents a valuable addition to the boardroom.