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.


Accredited training programs, why do we use them?

Have you ever wondered why organisations want to have training programs? If you answered ‘no’ you are in the same camp as me because I feel it’s all pretty obvious right? You want to increase the skills of your employees, get your slice of government incentives, build your workforce, build your brand… the list goes on.

Recently an article was published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources  with the fancy title of “Modelling the reasons for the use of vocational training in Australian enterprises”. The modelling was based on a 2005 survey of employers by the National Centre for Vocation Education Research, Australia (the article didn’t cite how many employers were surveyed). The reason for the research was due to a lack of explicit research in the area, which I guess perhaps is true….

Okay, I’ll bite, maybe this article will teach me something new….

*15 mins later after reading*

The article didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already believe to be true, or that I hadn’t read on other VET education blogs. It really confirms the complexity of the reasons why organisations choose to deliver accredited training programs. A couple of the key reminders for me included:

Reminder 1: Connection

The article talked about how employees who are completing accredited training are seen as completing something outside of the organisation and not directly linked to the strategy of the business.  I’ve actually been really impressed recently when talking to RTO’s about their real desire to partner and offer something that isn’t a walk in, walk out service – it’s like insourcing your L&D department now.

Reminder 2: Remember the Why

The article highlighted the trend that the more skilled your workforce the more likely you are to shy away from needing an Accredited Training Program with the exception of industries and roles that are driven by mandatory certifications and training. I agree and disagree at the same time. I think it’s dependant on your Why, why do you want to have an Accredited Training Program? Accredited Training is awesome for building a structure, keeping your eye on what matters and capitalising on funding that you can reinvest into your people. I think that reasoning with that trend without looking at other factors kind of gives Vocational Training a bad name. It’s all in the execution and being clear on why you are having the program in the first place.

In other news the article did cite a fun fact from research carried out in the mid 1990’s:

…enterprises reported that training needs were increasingly fragmented to the individual level and that they were progressively abandoning the traditional approach to training programs that saw large groups of employees receive the same training regardless of individual need…

This observation was from the MID 1990’s – 10 years ago people – and we are still having this same discussion about the need for L&D structures to catch up and join us here in the present day.

If you want to read full article check out the reference below.

Smith, A. and Oczkowski, E. (2014), Modelling the reasons for the use of vocational training in Australian enterprises. Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources. doi: 10.1111/1744-7941.120

Tell them what they want to hear

Communication is a big-ticket item in most organisations. How should we communicate this message, where should we communicate it, will they read it .. all common questions.Remove any ideas about significant change management where the communication problem amplifies, let’s look at day-to-day comms in organisations, let’s look at the gloriously undervalued employee newsletter. Newsletters should have lots of meaningful pictures, short summaries about the article and then a link to further information. People will select what they want to read and read on if they want to.

When designing our communications strategy (including newsletters) why don’t we tell people what they want to hear? There is a big gap between what we want employees to know and what they actually care about.

When I say what they want to hear. What I mean is crafting the message so it fits into what matters most to them. Use your engagement survey to get this information. If not, you could try this amazing idea called talking to people – cutting edge, I know! I could guess that all employees care about anything to do with their pay, changes to operations (that impact them), and any benefits they can get for free (that they value). It’s about filtering your content through the What’s In It For Me looking-glass.

This isn’t a new idea – this is how news stories work. Commercial news stories are developed to hook in to what matters to you. News stories run with the themes of fear, self-improvement, danger and cute animal stories at the end. So to circle back – commercial media is clever because they know what it takes to ensure you don’t change the station. You need to think this way in your communications. Now, I am contrasting video media and written comms here but the message is the same. Write for what your audience wants to hear and make it fit that model.

Most of this time the development of newsletters will sit with HR or if you are lucky you have an internal comms person. This is one of those times where HR practitioners need to look beyond the scope of their HR skills and delve into advertising and design principles. You can’t continue to write for an audience that doesn’t exist – you’re employees do not care about what you have to tell them, they care about what it important to them.

I will continue to muse over this in the coming year…

OD is just HR grown up

Organisational Development (OD)  is what I consider the younger, cooler, more out spoken and rebellious version of HR. OD is inhabited with HR specialists who said HELL NO to boring HR practices and wanted to take on a much broader view of the business. OD specialists are problem solvers and always ask the question “should it be like this?”  and “why are you doing it that way?”.

The evolution of your HR role into an OD role comes from not blindly accepting the status quo. Any HR professional can lift their game and work in the OD space! In my opinion, you are an OD specialist if your role requires you to work accross multiple business units to make work more efficient and improve the employee experience. OD is about developing an organisation to be bigger and better than it was before. Any time you do this it will invariably require some kind of HR Development experience (whether it be knowledge of legislation, adult learning, change management etc).

If you look at OD through my definition then really I do not see that OD deserves to be a separate discipline. I think it’s just HR evolved and eventually OD and HR will be one in the same.

The days of businesses paying for HR specialists to tick boxes are on the way out. We can outsource that stuff – we are now about solving problems. If you are not solving or working on solving a problem everyday, I would start to question the value you add.

I recently read an article in the Industrial and Commercial Training Journal called – Waking ourselves up! Re-examining the role of OD practitioners – a challenger perspective. I would recommend reading it if you’ve got the time. It is written from the point of view of an OD Consultant and provides a bit of a framework for getting people to be effective OD Specialists.

It talks about the Challenger Spirit – which is about standing up against the status quo and finding out who is blocking the path to change, echoing some of my initial thoughts. Some of the qualities of the challenger include:

  • taking a broad business view;
  • understanding commercial realities;
  • being prepared to experiment and improvise; and
  • causing some kind of purposeful disturbance.

Sounds just like what HR should be doing, right?

Further Reading

lare Southall , (2014),”Waking ourselves up! Re-examining the role of OD practitioners – a challenger perspective”, Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 46 Iss 4 pp. 182 – 187 –

Psychology in HR – Too much of a good thing?

We are very caught up in the psychology of HR at the moment.  A recent article in the Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources included commentary on the disciplines that make up the HR mix. Great HR is a mix of psychology, economics, finance, social science and industrial relations just to name a few. But what we are seeing right now is a real dominance of psychology, especially when we start to talk about engagement, recruitment and talent management.

….much research into people management continues to be psychology driven (and US-centric), generating simplistic ideas about the universal effects of workplace relations practices (pg. 395).

No doubt psychology provides us with an excellent way to approach business and people management, but if we get to caught up in one thing we miss the bigger picture. Let’s take the example of employee engagement. There is a lot of talk about the psychology of connection and commitment to organisations. But engagement is about economics and the broader business landscape as well.

…insights about the behaviour of individuals in organisations need to be placed in a broader social, legal, political and institutional context (pg. 395).

The key point here is that we need to make sure we are approaching things in a balanced and rational way. The psychology standpoint the flavour of the moment but there is more too it. HR as more than an administrative and discipline function has a long way to go and I reckon what’s key is ensuring we don’t get swept up in the latest trend and keep our eyes on the prize!

Further Reading

Kasyanenko , T., Nevado , P., Rimmer , M., & Eduarda Soares , M. (2014). The psychologisation of workplace relations: why social context matters (Vol. 52). Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources .

Safety – “I don’t get paid enough to care about this”

Believe it or not this is the mindset of some people when it comes to workplace health and safety. They feel it’s above their pay grade to be responsible for this kind of thing.. ehhhhhhhhh.

We need to make safety real for people, and the most effective mechanism for this I believe is storytelling.

When I was at uni, I must have done a subject on workplace safety because that lecture stands out for me. The lecturer was the OH&S warden for a manufacturing company and she told us a story about someone getting their leg cut off because the $2 warning light had blown and no one had checked it. Pretty much this guy walked into a human mincer – F%$^& that is messed up. All because someone didn’t complete a 2 second safety checklist. I can’t even……

Another story I heard was at a management training course. An office manager stood on an office chair to reach a high cupboard. The chair (which had wheels) slipped from underneath her and she cracked her skull and lost some motor function in her arms.

Recently I heard a story from a friend who spoke about a man who had injured his back and he can now never pick his kids up again. He can’t play with them the way he used to. All because he rushed something at work, cutting a few corners so he could get home on time.

We keep talking about health and safety, action plans and ongoing dialogue, so why are there people who still think it’s above their pay grade to think about it or comply. It upsets me because this is about more that statistics and WorkCover premiums. It is the value you are placing on your life. If you’re not safe at work you could ruin your life and the lives of others.

It’s everyones role to make sure we all make it home at the end of the day, it’s got nothing to do with your pay, your position or your education –  it’s just part of the job!

Policy snooze stack

I am currently reviewing an induction guide at the moment and I want to ensure that it is the simplest document possible. Only what they need to know, then everything else we can give them along the way. It’s often the simple stuff we actually overlook when someone starts. I have heard stories of new starters not being shown where to store their lunch, where the bathrooms are, how they can access additional uniforms or where they can access their shifts. You know what they got instead – a pile of policies to review and sign.


So you are telling me that they went through a recruitment process where let me guess, you told them the company was progressive, or exciting, or something else you feel strongly about; then on their first day you sat them down and told them to read a stack of policies. No. No you did not.

There is a better way, but you are going to need to think a little bit harder, stretch yourself and be a bit creative. I know plenty of HR people that tell me that they aren’t creative. Which is crap, because creativity is about taking a concept and changing it up a little bit. We can all do that, we all have something to offer. Use your voice and put it out there.

Build a training plan, try your hand at e-learning development, make a video, create a user friendly checklist, coach your managers. Time allocated to reading documents should not be your new starters introduction to your community.

Let’s make this practice a thing of the past and move towards integrating what needs to be done, in a simple and user friendly way!

Can we fix it, YES WE CAN!