Human resources in need of an overhaul

Human resources professionals cite lack of management support; 59% of staff surveyed in Asia rate HR experience a ‘C’


A global talent study by HR consulting firm Mercer showed that only 4% of HR professionals said that the HR function is viewed as a strategic business partner within their organizations. Photo: iStockphoto.
A global talent study by HR consulting firm Mercer showed that only 4% of HR professionals said that the HR function is viewed as a strategic business partner within their organizations. Photo: iStockphoto.

Bengaluru: For companies these days, finding talent is a major preoccupation. Ask any CEO and they will say attracting the right talent is of the utmost business importance. As a result, one may think, human resources (HR) is a key business driver. However, very few HR professionals find support from leadership and feel they are seldom treated as a business partner.

A global talent study by HR consulting firm Mercer showed that only 4% of HR professionals said that the HR function is viewed as a strategic business partner within their organizations. The study was conducted among 1,730 HR leaders and over 4,500 employees in all industries across 17 countries.

“While attempts have been made by HR to connect to business there are still some big gaps,” said Shanthi Naresh, India business leader, talent consulting and information solutions, Mercer.

For it to be a business driver, HR needs to acquire two hard skills to be able to bridge the gap—gain more business acumen and have consultation skills. “HR needs to be able to take a holistic view of business and also move from being an executing function to influencing solutions,” she added. The other reason for the gap, consultants say, could also be the way HR is taught in business schools.

India produces a lot of HR specialists every year, but the kind of thinking with which they come is still traditional, says Debabrat Mishra, director, Hay Group India.

And sometimes, HR professionals are also to blame. “It is the responsibility of HR professionals and not anyone else to demonstrate the relevance of HR to business. HR is perceived as a functional role and HR leaders are seen as specialists rather than enterprise leaders,” said Mishra.

And because HR still exists within a silo, most HR policies in a workplace belong to a rulebook that has not been updated and therefore is not practical.

For instance, companies that use technology should be able to offer mobility solutions to its employees but some companies still track the log in and log out details of employees and the hours spent at office, which is then tied to their ratings.

In fact, three in four organizations say their talent process fails the test of being simple and efficient, according to the Mercer study. “In most companies, HR still struggles with basics like payroll and keeping up with updating of personnel data. They have not evolved to dealing with newer problems like mobility, analytics,” said Nischae Suri, partner, KPMG India.

Ambrish Rastogi, director of the people and organization practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers, agrees: “How often do we see HR professionals challenging the written policy? Or asking for it to be updated?”

Because of this, HR is regarded more as a policing function than an enabler. In the survey, 59% of employees in Asia gave their experience with HR a “C” (the lowest grade).

“HR has a tendency to make a master policy. While it may make sense to 80% of the people, for the remaining 20% it may not be relevant at all. And in large organizations, 20% is a significant number. Therefore, HR should look to drive policies and initiatives through managers, as they are in a better position to differentiate and make exceptions where required,” said Nandita Gurjar, former HR head of Infosys Ltd and currently a mentor for start-ups.

Any dissonance between what employees want out of the organization and what HR thinks is right for employees can lead to dissatisfaction in the workplace. And this can potentially lead to talent leaving the company even if they are satisfied with their role. “Employees have increased options and if those options are aligned to giving the employee what he or she is looking for, they will move,” said Naresh.

“My recommendation is that companies should not have HR specialists running the function but instead have a system where people with other business roles also take up HR roles. This way they will have an overall understanding of the business,” said Mishra of Hay Group.

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