Monday, November 18, 2019
Sunday, 14 September 2014 20:00

Has HR Lost Its Relevance?

Written by Alonzo L. Smith, SPHR
Like many other HR professionals, I read with great interest, the recent Wall Street Journal online article “Companies Say No to having an HR Department.” The article spawned a lot of hand wringing and responses, such as “How did we lose our way?” and “Where did we go wrong?”

I begin with the premise that the correct answer to the subject question is an unequivocal “no.” Whether an organization is large or small, private or public, for profit or non-profit (and I have worked in each of these), whatever its Raison d’ Etre, its mission is accomplished through—and its very survival depends on—its workforce. The success of the workforce is driven by HR professionals, who have a thorough understanding of the human resources lifecycle and expertise in all aspects of workforce planning and management. It is the HR professional who continually provides the necessary expertise in determining and validating position requirements, acquiring needed talent, onboarding, compensating, training and developing, promoting employee engagement, managing performance, and eventually transitioning personnel out of the organization. That makes HR a prime driver of the accomplishments of any institution. In addition, HR professionals constantly scan the regulatory environment for changes that affect the workforce to ensure the organization remains compliant with applicable legislation. Further, the HR professional validates that knowledge through the rigorous process of achieving certification.

That said, in many instances, HR has a perception problem. It is quite often viewed as an administrative function that adds little or no value to the organization. Worse, when HR gets caught up in performing transactions for transactions sake, they run the risk of being seen as a self-licking ice cream cone. If others in the institution (especially the key decision makers) view HR as relevant and a true business partner that knowledge of the HR lifecycle alone is insufficient. There are some additional skill sets that need to be developed and deployed.

The first of these is a strategic mindset. The HR professional needs to demonstrate an in-depth understanding of what the organization defines as success. What are its mission, vision and values? What are its short- and long-term plans? What are its goals and objectives? What are its products? Who are its customers and what are their preferences? Only by understanding the answers to these questions are HR professionals able to strategically apply comprehensive HR processes to realistically shape the workforce that is structured to meet the organization’s needs.

The HR professional must never lose sight of the fact that all organizations, large or small, for profit or non-profit, public or private, manage to a bottom line. Do you know what that bottom line is for your organization? Can you develop and manage a budget? Do you understand how the HR Department’s budget impacts or is impacted by the overall organizational budget? Can you read and interpret your company’s Income Statement, Balance Sheet and Statement of Cash Flows? Can you speak the language of business? Do you have a thorough understanding of the Return on Investment the company receives for the Human Capital that you currently have or intend to put in place? The answer to these questions needs to be “yes” if HR is to understand the makeup of the workforce that needs to be acquired, deployed and adjusted as needed to get to that desired bottom line.

Are you skilled at collaboration? Do you understand how the different parts of the organization fit together? Can you facilitate interdepartmental cooperation and teaming? Can you reach across organizational lines to help other departments, such as Operations, Maintenance, Marketing or Finance, achieve their objectives by providing the expertise required to help them manage their workers to accomplish their portion of the mission? Do you promote cross-communication, relationship-building and conflict resolution?

Are you constantly looking to identify, acquire, and leverage the technology that will increase productivity and further enable collaboration, not just for the HR department, but across the entire workforce? It is imperative that the HR professional tenaciously strive to keep up with the frenzied pace of technology.

As a long-time HR practitioner, I firmly believe that HR is now and will continue to be relevant if we can answer “yes” to the questions above. Hank Jackson, SHRM President and CEO, said that based on conversations he had with CEOs and hundreds of HR professionals in 2013, he identified three resolutions that every HR professional should consider in 2014. The first of these is to be an even better business leader. Being able to answer “yes” to the questions above will go a long way ensuring that HR does indeed remain relevant. Just as the CFO is seen as a business partner with financial expertise and the COO is seen as a business partner with operations expertise, HR will be perceived as a business partner with human capital expertise.

Alonzo L. Smith SPHR, is the Vice President for Human Resources, Plans and Administration at Thomco Enterprises Inc. He is also President of SHRM – Emerald Coast Chapter and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..