Redefining the Role of HR in your Business

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If you work in the HR industry you may have heard the numerous questions that come down to the same premise “what does HR actually do”?

One of the largest misconceptions regarding HR today is the clearly defined role of exactly what the term “HR” encompasses.

Before we can redefine the role of HR in your business we need to define the role of HR in your business.

Defining the role

Long gone are the days of HR being the portfolio that is passed around between the managers who have capacity to execute some sort of HR function, with the assistance of an administrator who is usually referred to as the PAYROLL person.

HR goes far beyond the traditional thought of payroll and counselling troublesome employees.

In the broader spectrum of what HR means to an organisation we need to dissect the meaning of managing the Human Capital within any organisation, the broader scope of the term refers to:

  • Industrial relations – Disciplinary management, counselling and performance management. In short, the establishment of a governed workforce. The guiding principles by which behaviour can be somewhat controlled in order to meet a required outcome in a controlled manner.

  • Health and safety – Ensuring a safe workplace for all. With the addition of risk identification and management. No workplace will be without danger. However all dangers should be monitored as minimised to the greatest extent.

  • Payroll and your employee interface system – No working relationship is complete without the gratification of an employee’s efforts over a period. The effective management of the payroll function is essential for the smooth and uninterrupted efforts of all employees.

  • Transformation – Legislative compliance, Change management, recruitment and the ideal selection of employees that contribute as efficiently as can be to an organisation achieving its goals.

Although the above mentioned is a far shot from a detailed description of an HR practitioners daily activities, they are a framework by which any organisation can base the foundation of what the HR department should be occupying themselves with.

Redefining the role:

Each of the above mentioned functions speak to another echelon of activities that require a great amount of attention –

So why can HR not be a function achieved through the cumulative efforts of managers that occupy other portfolios?

In order to answer the above question we need to consider a few matters –

Legislative changes, very few business functions have noted the vast developments as the HR sphere in last 7 – 10 years. Specifically within a South African context this unique array of legislations have meant the way in which legislation is interpreted and implemented may very well be the difference between success and failure for a specific initiative.

Skills required, no longer does a general knowledge, or brief self-study session suffice when matters arise in a workplace. Best practice, steps to follow and compliance to ensure mean that employees now need to be leaner, meaner and a lot more specialised in any of the HR related functions.

Time, if only we were that masters of our own deadlines – HR is established around deadlines, notice periods, practices to follow, reports due, employees to be paid and CCMA cases to attend to. The intricacies of the HR functions have meant that no task can be seen as menial any longer, the custodians of the portfolio need to be able to provide their undivided attention to any of the demanding requirements in a heartbeat.

Impact on the business, Very often the focus is incorrectly aimed at how expensive a successful HR resource can be in direct cost to an organisation. Be it internally with the attainment of an HR Manager or with an outsourced function. However, there should rather be a value proposition that speaks to the potential return that can be provided by such a resource.

The direct need or threat would speak to the risk ran by an organisation for non-compliance with regard to the multitude of legislations that effect the industry in which it operates. Hefty fines stare many organisation in the face for compliance related issues – when considering the impact any of these fines could have the cost justification alone will inspire an organisation to consider and the value of a competent HR function. Nevertheless what about the avenues of return on investment that are not explored by organisations. A lack of in depth understanding to the positive financial and other benefits that can be explored within the HR function could be an unknown factor experienced by employers overall.

A shift in the mind-set

When HR practitioners can be seen as business partners, and allowed the opportunity to have a broader impact in the organisation not only are the direct costs –such as succession planning allowing for “lower level” and cheaper recruitment to take place – minimised, but so are indirect costs such as; the effective planning of training and development interventions that lead to a more effective and efficient workforce.

The current view of HR in the workplace has its greatest criticisms in the fact that the function is reactive, slow and derived from a need which has its foundations in a threat to the organisation. The possibilities of having a workforce that is well motivated, efficient, and dedicated to their workplace – due to their needs being seen to through both personal and professional development – is attainable through the efforts of a successful HR function. The outcome to this type of culture created in an organisation would be a workforce that sees low staff turnover, and high employee engagement.

Embracing Change

There are great benefits to an effective HR function within an organisation, namely, employees who are developed, and interest shown in their personal lives tend to be more effective employees. Which speaks directly to the company’s bottom line. The key is the correct resource that has the knowledge, skill and capability to unlock the potential that is the effective management of the human capital within an organisation.

In closing, an organisation can be forced into the attainment of a successful HR resource though the firm hand of the law, and the change can be resisted. Or alternatively, organisations can become savvy as to the endless possibilities and benefits that the HR function holds in maximising employee satisfaction along with profitability whilst proactively changing the HR from the business function that is seen as a leach – to the business function that yields both financial and non-financial returns. HR is no longer passing the buck but rather the business partner that embraces change in a workplace.

For more information on redefining the role of HR in your business, please contact the LabourNet Helpdesk at

0861 LABNET (0861 522638).

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