How should we structure the HR department?

A while back I went for an interview to become a Regional Manager for a large supermarket chain. During the group interview process I sat through an information session about the company and a Q&A.

When I asked who looks after the HR department and that side of things, the senior manager said that HR was a waste of space and an unnecessary business function (oh snap!)

When I asked who deals with those traditional HR items I was told they instilled a Grandfather policy by where you escalated things to your manager’s manager to keep a layer of separation. Any advice regarding policy or legislation was handled by the legal teams and basic admin was completed by payroll. Okay I thought, I get that…

So then I asked about culture, actually I asked something like what events do you celebrate internally and are there cultural milestones that define who you are as a business. I was met with a blank stare and a comment about sometimes people receive birthday cards from their manager and then the conversation was dismissed. Oh.

I asked whether they had a HR business partner to help guide operations in creating HR systems and processes for their teams. More blank stares. I knew then it wasn’t going to work out – if you know me, you will know one of my biggest passions is how we make workplaces more awesome so this role pretty much stomped all over that.

However this interview exposed me to a whole new way of approaching the structure of HR teams which as been swirling in my mind ever since.  Have seen HR set up in a few ways including:

  1. Outsourcing – hire a consultancy to become your HR team and pay for what you use essentially.
  2. Hire everyone – massive HR teams which act as a safety net for managers (and get made redundant in tough times).
  3. Business Partners: Where HR coaches managers how to execute the process, stepping in only if its high risk.
  4. All Admin – the internal team offers no strategic value and external consultants rotate through ‘innovating’ the business.
  5. I don’t need no HR – they totally wing it or build it out all together (as above).

Personally I think the only sustainable methods are to either outsource your HR team or build an internal team of business partners streamlining the admin process. Speaking generally, competent and capable line managers can manage most of the day-to-day things that most large HR teams are dealing with. HR does not need to sit in on every Performance Management meeting or every interview. It’s certainly not my job to sit down with employees I’ve never worked a day in my life with and tell them they need to improve. That’s the manager’s job, but many HR advisors and managers find themselves involved in this stuff.

It’s 100% my job to support managers to make the right decision when it comes to the tough people issues. It’s my job to build systems, processes and provide advice that makes managing people easier.

It’s not my job to manage operational teams explicitly , that’s where we are getting it wrong. HR is spending too much time doing the jobs of managers or doing admin tasks that robots can do.

When I first started my career in HR I was told that the Happy HR Ratio was 1:50 employees and over the past few years I have seen this number stretch out to 1:200+, so you don’t have to be a genius to realise that HR needs to get smarter with how they use their time and where they put their resources.

It’s time to get real and think about the value you offer as a HR professional.

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