BrainTrust Query: HR is More Than ‘Sick Visits’

Dec 13, 2012

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Getting Personal About Business, the blog of Zahn Consulting, LLC

For many employees and even executives, the HR function has been viewed as a hurdle or an impediment to be overcome by the "real" business leaders who were focused on profit, market share, sales dollars, efficiency of systems, etc.

A more progressive view comes from one of my close friends who works for a company that has nearly tripled in size over the last couple of years and has particularly recognized the strategic importance of a well-staffed and well-run HR function.

What this company has realized is that HR is not just about tending to the problems or "sick visits" to provide some intervention to correct a bad situation. It can also be about developing and nurturing the organization through opportunities to get people to excel at their current positions. It may include:

Selection criteria: Giving careful thought to the "what counts" factors for the existing job, but also for future promotion opportunities and needs.

Orientation and on-boarding: A serious concern for the company that went through tremendous expansion. They had to bring many new employees into the fold and get them to be productive quickly (or risk having the contract in jeopardy).

Mentorship: Aligning newer employees with more experienced hands to provide a "go-to resource" to answer questions.

Succession planning: As the company continues to grow, there will be additional needs in the managerial ranks, a need to "backfill" positions that are vacant as employees leave or retire, etc.

Training: The needs of the company continue to evolve and so there are needs to upgrade skills on new technology, managerial competencies, industry changes, etc. HR can meet many of those needs when properly aligned with the business units.

Career development: Assessing the needs of both the company and the individual employee to ensure that there is a fit for current and future assignments. Creating a path for people to follow in their career development is a crucial requirement of the company.

The model of HR being the "grim reaper" that is to be avoided (because it is never good news when HR is requesting to see you) is one that is changing in many organizations.

For HR to be successful requires that it be led by someone who is visionary, practical, business-minded, and not simply focused on the "forms and procedures" side of the role. While those are necessities (especially in dealing with legal issues, union contracts, filing requirements, etc.), they are best matched with someone who wishes to also provide opportunities for "well-care" or developmental experiences to allow employees to maximize their value and contributions.

Why haven’t HR departments been more successful in helping drive the career potential of employees? What sort of positive HR initiatives have you seen? What metrics should be used to value HR?

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10 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: HR is More Than ‘Sick Visits’"

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Kevin Graff
9 years 5 months ago

The traditional role of HR is typically a mess, caught up in political correctness and old fashioned ideas. However, the new HR direction seen in many retail businesses is right on track. Instead of being an impediment, they’re partners with Store Ops and the rest of the business.

It’s a good idea to consider changing the title away from “Director of Human Resources” to “Director of Talent” or something like that.

A couple of added and random notes/thoughts:

  • Training must be owned by Store Ops, not HR. HR can develop it and support it, but Store Ops must own it. Otherwise, they’ll never ensure it gets done in the stores.
  • Staff turnover rate should be a key metric to evaluate HR against.
  • HR needs to spend much more time in the stores talking to the staff they are supposed to be developing and supporting.
  • HR needs to be at the senior management table to both understand the bigger picture of the business and to add their voice to the discussion.
Ed Rosenbaum
9 years 5 months ago

It is difficult to determine which of the choices is most important. All serve and have a role in the development of the employee and success of the organization.

I always thought the on-boarding process and career development path, done and explained correctly, had the biggest influence on the success of a new hire. Follow up has to be added to this list. A new employee and even seasoned employees have to know the HR Department does not abandon them after the hiring and training is completed.

J. Peter Deeb
9 years 5 months ago

My guess is that HR executives and managers in most companies are “caretakers” who do a little bit of career guidance and selection training. The key points in the article above can only be accomplished with a corporate commitment to emphasize hiring and empowering high quality HR people who can drive selection by need, provide support for management accountability programs, devise and implement training and mentoring programs and have their own performance based on positive accomplishments rather than on avoidance of negative impacts (lawsuits etc). Those performance metrics can include percentage of successful hires over time, selection and maintenance of a career development and succession planning process, training, and mentoring programs with goals that are measurable.

Steve Montgomery
9 years 5 months ago

The first question is how is the HR success judged? Is it by turnover, the people that move up from within the organization, or some other metrics? Is it seen within the organization as a help or a hindrance?

The role of HR is determined by the view the company has of its employees—are they assets to be nurtured or an expense to be minimized?

Either way HR has two distinct roles. One is working with the people involved. The other is dealing with the paperwork involved. I believe everyone would state the former is far more important than the later, but that really depends on what role HR plays within the organization.

Kurt Seemar
Kurt Seemar
9 years 5 months ago

All departments and individuals should strive to be proactive. I would add managing company culture and morale to the list of proactive activities that HR is in a position to actively manage.

For HR to be successful, which in my book requires HR to be more than paperwork cops, HR personnel need to heavily interact with the rest of the company. This requires a time commitment from the HR resources, yes; but what is often overlooked is the time commitment from the rest of the company.

For HR to be successful at recruiting, training, mentoring, career development, etc. the folks in HR need to understand all aspects of the business. What makes a good CFO, statistician, accountant or payroll specialist is not necessarily immediately obvious and the only way HR will understand this is if we teach them. For me, what drove past successful relationships with HR has been my willingness to teach my part of the business to HR and their willingness to learn it.

Ian Percy
9 years 5 months ago
First let’s clear the room of the smoke and mirrors. The universally declared “Our greatest resource is our people” is pure BS in, by far, the majority of organizations. There, I’ve said it and I’m glad. Here’s your problem. HR has no soul. Yes, that’s an overstatement and I’m not saying that about the individuals who happen to do “human resource” work, they tend to be amazing and soul-full people trapped in a fear-driven system they don’t know how to get out of. Almost all organizations are driven by fear; all of them from churches to retail to governments. This is why a call from HR makes you tremble instead of rejoice. Too often they are there to preserve fear. The client I had with the 14 page dress code is still my favorite piece of evidence. Guess where you could find that policy. While this thoughtful article is raising an essential discussion, it too is about how we (the corporation) can milk more out of the people. Here’s its concluding point: that we need… Read more »
David Zahn
9 years 5 months ago

Kevin’s points are spot-on when he refers to operations (or ANY line management role) being responsible for training of their people. Too often I have seen HR tasked with it and the executives, managers and supervisors responsible for results treating training as a “check-the-box” exercise to be done by others (with no accountability or responsibility for the department charged with results and performance).

Ed is right—getting people aligned initially and properly started is critical, but not the end of the road…need to sustain the relationship throughout.

Identifying the role and metrics are essential. I concur.

Ralph Jacobson
9 years 5 months ago

I don’t think all is lost on HR, by any means. There are some great HR groups within both retailers and CPG companies. I see them visiting store people, holding employee career enablement workshops, and designing benefits programs that truly matter.

Metrics can include employee training expense versus tenure, or revenue per employee to analyze effectiveness. Best practices implementation at the “line level” and bringing line employees into the decision-making process creates more of a sense of ownership and creates real value in HR efforts.

Mel Kleiman
9 years 5 months ago

The reason HR departments have not been successful in retail is because no matter what most retailers say about the importance of employees, their actions speaker louder then words. Employees are not looked on as an investment, they are not even looked on as assets. They are an expense item to be dealt with as any expense—controlled and reduced to the lowest level possible. Companies and managers get the employees they deserve.

Ed Rosenbaum
9 years 5 months ago

Both Mel and Ian came down strong, and unfortunately for the employees, they are right.


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