Is the perception of HR affecting your business?

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Thursday, October 25, 2018


When it comes to attracting HR talent, how well your HR function is respected and perceived can no longer be an afterthought.

As a specialist HR Recruiter speaking to mid-senior and Director-level job-seekers on a daily basis, I have noticed a distinct increase in the importance that these HR professionals are now placing on how HR is thought of within a potential employer before they will commit to an interview.

There is no doubt that companies in the UK are striving to offer more contemporary styles of working with flexible working arrangements and attractive benefit packages but the wish-lists of HR candidates have evolved beyond the purely quantitative. In particular we have detected a recognisable shift towards the importance being placed on how valued HR is within a business.

Last week, I registered a candidate who had applied to one of my senior HR vacancies. Yes, she was interested in the scope of the role, the challenges to overcome, the potential for career advancement and, of course, the salary. However, as the conversation progressed, it was quite clear that her primary concern was one of perception. “How is the HR function positioned, how well is it respected and how is it perceived by the wider business?” she asked me.

This isn’t the first time I have fielded questions of this nature and, more recently, it’s becoming the norm.

Most HR professionals are aware that not all businesses they work for truly understand the value of an HR function and this often leads to broader issues of organisational inefficiency and wasted commercial opportunity. How often are HR professionals included in discussions around sales performance, manufacturing efficiencies or a new marketing initiative? Why not? Would it really blow their minds?

The root cause of many problems in a business are caused by miscommunication between separate groups of personnel – literally the human resource of the organsiation. How often does the ‘H’ word get overlooked when searching for solutions? A significant number of HR professionals started their careers in other areas of commerce, sometimes to lofty heights. Does commercial amnesia kick in the moment they start their CIPD studies?

I have spoken to numerous HR candidates where the key driver behind a career move is to secure a role within a business which can demonstrate both an understanding and respect for the value that HR functions can add, both holistically and to the bottom line. HR professionals genuinely care about the success of the company they work for but they are too rarely thought of as having anything meaningful to contribute – a cost, not an asset. A HR Director recently confided in me that “he only gets invited to board meetings because he knows how to work the conference-call technology in the boardroom.” He was obviously joking … I hope.

Legitimate frustrations mount when their knowledge and value are misunderstood by the wider business and lazy clichéd perceptions are allowed to fester – jobsworths, walking clipboards, whispering cliques behind closed doors, an internal police force which is best avoided. I’ve heard them all! It must make it very hard sometimes to engage productively with non-HR colleagues if these misconceptions exist before you’ve even walked onto the sales floor, the warehouse or the boardroom.

“So… what’s the problem?” I hear some CEO’s, MD’s and Chairmen ask.

Well, firstly I don’t think this issue is a fad and it’s not going to go away. If a company has an HR function which is poorly perceived or not respected, they might struggle to attract the best talent and the vicious cycle is perpetuated. Secondly, who doesn’t want an HR function which is valued? A good HR function embraced and evangelised by the wider business can positively impact a business immeasurably, from within.

The HR talent in today’s highly competitive market will vote with their feet and, in doing so, will walk right into an interview with questions around the perception that all companies should be happy to answer and, more importantly, demonstrate.

Of course, this is a two-way street and the modern HR professional has some responsibility to change the perception of their value from within. A tin-hat and bunker mentality changes very little and usually just serves to compound the stereotype. However, I can’t help but feel that those companies who choose to invest in promoting a positive and inclusive perception of their HR function will attract the cream of the talent crop and, in this competitive market place, who wouldn’t want that?

So far (and with the words of the late, great Aretha Franklin ringing in my ears) my candidates have been asking to work in a function where respect and positive perception is ingrained in the company culture but how long will it be until they stop asking and start demanding it?