HR Group, founded in Edmonton Alberta in 1993, is a partnership of highly experienced management consultants who specialize in organizational effectiveness and human resource management, and promote participative, lean, and cost-effective management practices. All partners are Certified Human Resource Practitioners with extensive senior level experience in both the private and public sectors.

The HR Function: What Is It?

Reprinted from “Productive Workplaces” (October, 2007), the HR Group newsletter.

The booming Alberta economy has sparked a rising interest in Human Resources Management. Many organizations are exploring their Human Resource Management needs and trying to determine whether or not they need resident expertise in the form or an HR “specialist” or whether or not they can or should outsource this overall function. It is gratifying to see this interest in HR on the one hand, but on the other hand it brings to light so many of the misconceptions that still exist regarding the HR function, what it entails, and who in the organization should really be responsible for most HR policies and practices.

Many people still think of HR as the outdated concept of “personnel”. The traditional personnel focus has been on mainly “transactional” policies, practices, and processes such as:

  • Recruitment and selection procedures such as posting/advertising, short listing, and interviewing
  • Enrollment of new employees with all appropriate forms completion for tax, payroll, and benefit purposes
  • Orientation processes for new employees
  • Determining the appropriate placement of new employees on existing compensation structures and overseeing any annual changes
  • Annual performance appraisal processes and forms completion
  • Ensuring compliance with existing HR legislation such as the Employment Standards Code
  • Ensuring compliance with Occupational Health and Safety and WCB legislation regarding appropriate forms completion, safety committees, tool box meetings, etc.
  • Exit interviews and other termination of employment processes and procedures

The traditional “personnel” functions are bureaucratic in nature and have been the responsibility of the payroll/personnel department. The focus is on compliance, paperwork, documentation, and standardization. They are necessary functions for any organization, but in Frederick Herzberg’s terminology they are hygiene factors and not motivational factors. They do little, if anything, to attract and retain qualified staff and to assist the organization in obtaining its goals. In many productive workplaces today, they are usually part of the payroll department and are competently performed by qualified clerical assistants. Increasingly some of the functions are outsourced to firms that specialize in payroll and personnel transactional procedures.

There is a far more important side, however, to HR. That is the whole area of Organizational Behavior and Development; the area that can materially assist organizations in obtaining their goals in the most efficient and cost effective manner; the area that truly deals with Herzberg’s motivational factors. This is the area, however, despite its importance, that is so often still missing in most organizations. Many senior managers feel that they inherently possess this knowledge and do not need any assistance or what, unfortunately, is so often viewed as interference in their own authority and overall responsibility.

So what are the components of Organizational Behavior and Development? What are the really important components of true Human Resources Management? Typical topics are:

  • Organizational structure and optimum layers of hierarchy – “flatter is better”
  • Reporting relationships, delegation of authority and responsibility and obtaining accountability
  • Organizational communication – how do you ensure that all staff are fully informed so that they can be expected to accept full responsibility
  • Management style – participative works, authoritarian doesn’t anymore
  • Actual management of employee performance at all levels from initial training through to possible termination – this is management’s primary responsibility which cannot be delegated and cannot be fulfilled by a useless annual “appraisal process”
  • Organizational performance and rewards – the behavior that gets rewarded is the behavior that you get
  • Teamwork – what truly creates teamwork; not the magic 7 steps or pizza lunches together
  • Communication skills – effective interviewing techniques, providing feedback, coaching skills
  • Continuous Improvement, Customer Service, Quality Management, Lean Manufacturing, etc. – concepts of how to achieve organizational excellence and quality

These are the important components of any worthwhile HR function. They are focused on overall organizational performance and individual performance in support of overall organizational goals. The role of the true HR specialist is not the bureaucratic one of compliance, paperwork, documentation, and standardization. Rather it is one of an internal consultant who has the knowledge and experience to provide advice, assistance, and training to the organization’s management to ensure that the human resources are utilized to their fullest extent in the most efficient and effective manner. The role is to assist management; not to do it for them. By “efficient and effective” we mean the ability to attract, motivate, and retain well qualified staff that will further the organization’s goals and improve the bottom line whether it be profit or purely service.

In the Province of Alberta there are currently two main associations, the Human Resources Management Association of Edmonton and the Human Resources Association of Calgary, as well as several other smaller regional associations. Historically, such associations have had a “personnel” focus. At one time, however, there was also the Alberta Society of Human Resources and Organizational Development (ASHROD), and an HR Planners group. The members of these latter two associations definitely felt that they were far better educated and more knowledgeable in the overall field of human resources management and that their knowledge could significantly assist the organization’s bottom line. These organizations, however, merged over time as the HR function grew in recognition and importance. Today, through the Human Resources Institute of Alberta, the regulatory body for all Human Resource Professionals, the HR organizations across the province are currently being melded into one overall umbrella organization. All members must now qualify for certification according to a national set of standards and renew certification every three years as a Certified Human Resource Professional (CHRP).

It is unfortunate, from our perspective, that this process of amalgamation has led, we feel, to less emphasis on the Organizational Behavior and Development side within the HR community as a whole. Even the national certification exam is heavily weighted towards the transactional “personnel” side. This is probably due to the process of “grandfathering” so many members into the new organization that do not have the full knowledge, experience, and training that should be required of a true HR professional. If HR is to be truly recognized and appreciated as a key strategic function, then practitioners will have to acquire full knowledge of the concepts and best practices of Organizational Behavior and Development. Successful organizations recognize the importance of this area and HR plays a leading role in their success.

Those organizations that are now assessing their HR “needs”, must decide whether or not they want the purely transactional “personnel” functions or whether they want the full HR function. If it is purely the former, then a competent clerical assistant or personnel “technician” can adequately ensure the implementation and administration of such functions and the related paperwork or they can be outsourced to a company that specializes in this area.

If it is the latter, organizations also have a choice. They can hire a fully qualified HR practitioner, which today will cost at least $75,000 per annum, or they can outsource to a qualified consultant or group of consultants. There is no magic cut off in terms of size as to when it pays a company to hire their own “internal” HR consultant. It certainly does not pay a company with only 200 employees to hire a fully qualified HR practitioner, but a company of around 500 employees may find it worthwhile. In today’s economy there is also the problem, however, of being able to find someone qualified. Many are retiring, young graduates don’t have the experience, and young MBA graduates think they know it all, but they don’t have the right training or the experience. It is becoming increasingly more effective to outsource a full HR function unless the organization is very large, and even then it may be worthwhile to outsource certain components.  The benefits of outsourcing are:

  • Cost effectiveness – less than the full-time salary of an internal consultant
  • Competence and experience – you gain the depth and breadth of experience offered by a partnership of professional consultants as opposed to one individual employee
  • Speed and efficiency – because of their depth and breadth of experience, HR programs are developed far more quickly and efficiently
  • Objectivity – experience with different organizations in all economic sectors means advice that is more objective and broader in scope
  • Availability – the consultants are always available with no down time
  • Self reliance – good consultants can provide the training and assistance to establish your own programs so that you become self reliant rather than dependent
  • Better productivity – through greater expertise and faster service

Such services can be provided in several ways:

  • As needed – on an as needed basis on site to establish or review programs and systems, to complete specific projects, and to handle specific problems
  • On going – on an on-going basis on site to provide agreed upon coverage of all organizational effectiveness needs or only select ones
  • Start up systems – assistance on site to establish all programs and systems and to fully train internal staff
  • Mentor and develop more junior in house HR professionals
  • HR Phone Line – assistance can always be made immediately available to all managers as and when needed.

It is gratifying to see this increased interest if Human Resources Management, but organizations need to first understand what HR truly entails and what their options are for meeting their needs.