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Balancing business demands and HR needs

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The war between human resources and business leaders is evident, but it’s time HR leaders start asking themselves what they really bring to the table, says David Lim, senior director for staffing in APAC at Quintiles East Asia.

How many times have you heard a human resources division colleague complain about not having a seat on the management board? How often have you heard (mostly through the grapevine) that “HR doesn’t understand our business; they don’t add value.” The war between human resources and business operations is indeed evident.

More often than not, two parties go into finger-pointing mode, with business leaders (“cowboys”) on one side and HR leaders (“policemen”) on the other.

Maybe as HR practitioners we should break the vicious cycle and start asking ourselves what value do we bring to the table?

Are we supposed to add value by being primarily a guardian angel, making sure rules and regulations are followed? Or are we supposed to be creative solution-providers to the business, with our guardian angel role being “table staked” – a given – and leveraging on our subject matter expertise to provide solutions to business needs?

Arriving at the latter calls for a paradigm shift in terms of how human resources thinks and operates.

Conventional practitioners, when faced with an issue, first look at the current equilibrium and their internal human resources key performance indicators. The focus veers toward what additional work is required and whether the solution has any legal implications.

Instead, we should first ask what the business is trying to achieve and what options can be applied, regardless of the current status. Such a mindset shift expands the universe of solutions, as there are far fewer boundaries.

Instead of asking “how” first, our initial question should be “what”. Focusing on the former limits our creativity and possible solutions.

Case in point: Years ago when I was working for another company, one HR KPI was to reduce search agency hires and rely on internal sourcing. As a result, recruiters used search agencies only as a last resort.The result was that the business suffered even while HR met this KPI. Because recruiters (human resources) failed to understand – or had no incentives to understand – that while reducing search agency costs was important, the business operations revenue lost as a result of delays in getting critical headcount onboard was even higher. In this case, HR’s focus on saving money ended up subtracting value from the business.

In other cases, I have seen HR fall into state of “analysis paralysis” caused by fear of upsetting the status quo. Encouraging, empowering and incentivising HR practitioners to boldly move to solve business issues needs to be pushed and prioritised.

I am not proposing that HR practitioners join the posse of business cowboys. However, to claim a seat HR needs to balance the business needs versus other constraints.  In today’s fast-paced business environment, we must start thinking about business outcomes first and HR implications second.

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