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Barrow & Parker

The Commercial Face of HR

How can HR ensure that it earns that coveted place at the Board Room Table?

In modern businesses, the traditional ‘personnel police’ face of Human Resource departments just won’t fit any more. We have argued for a long time that we should have a place at the Board Room table but have then, on many occasions, failed to live up to the commercial demands that this position places us in.

Many ‘old school’ HR functions have wanted to sit in the grand isolation of an ivory tower HQ, away from the businesses that they serve, contentedly dictating policy and procedure to all operational mangers, usually via a shared service operation which makes them faceless as well as blameless.

This simply is not good enough for a modern approach to HR and does not place us at the heart of the commercial action. Businesses exist to make money or provide public services – which also require a high level of commercial acumen to manage tightly stretched budgets.

It is highly frustrating to be an operational manager who goes to his or her HR function in order to get proactive support and advice to be told what is ‘allowed’ within the HR dictated ‘rules’ before they are cut loose to return to their department and find a way through their staffing challenge on their own.

So what can we do?

Surely we need to aim higher than this? A more progressive HR function should surely operate as a ‘risk assessment’ service for its business? This would mean providing specialist and commercially astute advice to assist managers in understanding a range of different options as a solution to their people problem – but then leaving the crucial decision with the front line where the cost and risk will sit. We can discuss pro’s and con’s of different approaches and point out the risks of certain courses of action, but it is the manager who will be left carrying the can and we should therefore empower them to make their own decisions.

A Commercial HR function?

It would be refreshing to see HR consider the commercial impact of decisions as a key driving factor – rather than an inconvenient afterthought. Employee development and high levels of engagement are clearly the way to go, but we do need to deliver return on this investment as well in order to convince our businesses that their money is well spent.

So, in summary, in order to earn that coveted seat on the Board, we have to act like a Board Member and this will mean that commercials rate as highly as more human considerations. We must embrace true ‘business partnering’ to move forwards and act less like the rule setters and keepers and more like the entrepreneurs that we can be if we open our practice to embrace the impact on the bottom line.

Beth Evans, February 2016

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