Towards strategic employee relations practices
From a traditional viewpoint of human resources (HR), the first thing that comes to mind would be that it is an operational role to craft job positions, hire and dismiss, reward, recognise and pay strategically; updating the latest policy, compensation and benefit scheme; performance development and appraisal systems; career and succession planning; corporate diversity and employee engagement; earmarking potential talent and investing in continuous employee development.
However, given the rapidly changing times, organisations today cannot afford for a HR department that merely functions operationally and fails to engage in forward-thinking to continually enhance the value of the company. In today’s organisations, HR managers need to think of themselves as strategic partners and participate in the organisation’s strategic planning process to contribute to the business success.
A forward-thinking HR aligns itself with the needs of its ever changing organisation in order to turn it into a successful organisation that is adaptive, resilient, agile and customer-centric.
HR as a strategic partner
Undoubtedly, there has been a paradigm shift in the understanding of HR towards a greater emphasis on human capital as an asset of the organisation and valuing the quality of their inputs.
HR can have a stronger influence in decision-making and play an integral role in contributing to the development and successes of the organisation.
However, this elevated status has to be earned. HR needs to be committed to step out of their HR box and show strong competency in responsibilities within their portfolio while continually focusing on adding value to prove their viability and ability to contribute.
HR practitioners can add value to each department’s objectives and overarching vision of the organisation by establishing strategic relationships with key individuals across departments.
Relationship-building provides a platform for better communication and understanding between departments, which concurrently breaks the silo mindset/working culture that hinders the organisation from aligning and moving forward.
HR and PR: They are not so different
HR has to know the ins and outs of the company. This would include knowing what is happening in the company by keeping an eye out on the online chat platforms, office emails and the corridor conversations/grapevines in the workplace.
All these should be done while putting up job vacancies and marketing to prospective employees and future or current customers. HR is the thermostat that determines the climate and culture of the company.
During a crisis, they are the key individuals who decide the planned course of action and the consequences that will impact the organisation and public as a whole. Due to their strong inclinations towards people, they can be strong public ambassadors and champion for the company’s employer brand.
There is a huge potential for cross-functional collaboration across HR, communications and public relations (PR) departments. In fact, there is a very thin line that separates HR and PR departments.
HR can serve as a valuable member on the PR team. HR, PR, communications and marketing departments all play a role in building and maintaining organisational reputation. In one way or another, all are involved in crafting campaigns and devising recruitment strategies; they are equally responsible for educating, engaging and influencing the public on the company image in a positive manner.
A strong working relationship between PR and HR departments is integral within any organisation, from matters pertaining to day-to-day operations to crisis situations. With HR’s deep tactical knowledge about their people, they would be the best go-to point of contact in determining appropriate methods and channels of communication.
Another strong reason would be organisational change. Management issues generally require input from different perspectives throughout the organisation. A strong working relationship reflects on a united organisation which provides a solid foundation for change.
It would also help various stakeholders better manage those intricacies, especially weathering through the difficult times, as people would be a natural priority for HR and PR.
HR: The new face of PR
The HR role now wears many hats and is not limited to the traditional application processing and policy making job description; they now need to be branding, PR, and marketing experts:
HR is now the spokesperson of the company’s employees and customers. They are leaders of the corporate culture and spearheads of employee-centric campaigns.
They are also representatives of employees to top executives to develop new initiatives and employee benefits such as flexible work hours, learning development programmes, health and dental benefits, further development reimbursement and diversity/employee engagement initiatives.
Most established and effective HR use survey tools to gauge the pulse and culture climate of employees.
Employee experiences are assessed through the use of employee surveys, focus group meetings, and exit interviews which are useful information in determining the happiness and engagement levels of the employees within the organisation.
External brand ambassador
Every external interaction and exposure of the HR team to the public implicitly helps market the business/company. By the mere exposure and the number of touch points with the outside world, increased visibility is a form of positive branding where it piques the interest of potential customers before they are bought into the brand.
This would serve as an advantage, especially in the competitive recruitment market for top talents and human capital management.
Advertising campaign managers
HR often engages with external vendors and agencies to develop company videos and marketing materials to promote company values and culture, which in return attracts prospective candidates.
For those who do not have the luxury of that budget, the responsibility would lie entirely on their shoulders from campaign development to delivery of the advertising and promotional campaigns via various traditional and non-traditional media platforms. Most HR professionals would have also leveraged social media as one of their marketing strategies.
As you can derive from the above, there are many overlaps between HR and PR. Although fundamentally related with strong interconnections, it does not mean that HR is meant to replace PR, or vice versa. Instead, working together rather than separately creates a synergy where we can transform an organisation that manages communications in a clear and consistent manner.
HR and the company as a whole would be able to reap the benefits of an improved overall company brand image, recruitment, employee engagement and customer satisfaction.
Breaking silos through cross collaboration
No organisation is immune from the silo syndrome, where different departments, divisions and individuals within the organisation function and interact as a segregated entity.
The silo culture
The silo culture often occurs when an organisation is hierarchical or when the organisation is structurally set up to work independently, or if the culture reflected by the leadership inhibits a collaborative nature.
This is a burning issue that the C-suite/senior management tries to address, where the lack of communication and interaction not only breeds insular thinking and promotes inefficiencies, but also hinders the organisation from being aligned and moving forward in a strategic direction.
Reorganising the company’s structure and reporting responsibilities could be one way of minimising silos temporarily. However, it can comfortably go back into another silo of a similar form when it is the only way that organising unit works and interacts.
The collaborative culture
Adopting a collaborative culture focuses on creating greater value for the overall organisation – presenting different ways of working to the natural patterns and reporting lines that form the structure of the organisation would help address the silo culture.
One of the most effective ways is to bring together cross-functional and interdepartmental employees to work in diversified project teams to address company-wide issues across different departments.
Best practice sharing
Cross-functional projects serve as a common platform for cross-departmental best practice sharing between candidates, project sponsors and teammates.
Unified by the project’s broader strategy, project teams focus their diverse multidisciplinary perspectives and knowledge where a strong interdependent and collaborative nature is necessary to meet its end objectives.
With a collaborative environment created, the spontaneous interaction encourages a broad input of ideas and knowledge exchange.
Employees would meet with various people in the organisation to gather information and get to know individuals from other departments in order to complete their project.
Information and idea exchange
Strong network of connections are built as they exchange information and brainstorm ideas while gaining exposure to the other areas of the organisation.
In time, the exposure to cross-functional interaction reduces the impact of silos, creating a culture of information sharing and cross pollination with increased openness to accept assignments from different departments.
Interdepartmental understanding and exposure
It also improves communications between business units, departments and functions with enhanced interdepartmental understanding which over time, helps address organisational conflict and business silos.
Individually, cross-functional business projects expose people to areas outside their expertise often not within their comfort zone, which stretches their capabilities for greater growth and learning.
Real life application
A huge emphasis of Leaderonomics’ talent development framework is project-based where participants are required to achieve process improvements or strategic gains for the organisation within a project environment.
Immersed in carefully selected projects which have live impact and value to the organisation, talents handle projects that are different from their core functions. In turn, these projects would enable the senior management to derive fresh ideas from the group.
It is also an opportunity for them to be exposed to the various aspects of managing a project, bringing to life their classroom learning into real life application.
Amanda is a strong believer in interdepartmental/cross collaboration initiatives as she personally witnessed the immense benefits it brings to both individuals and the organisation from her experience as a talent accelerator manager with the Leaderonomics’ Talent Acceleration Programme. To contact her, email email@example.com.
First published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 8 November 2014