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What is HR?

While recruiting an HR Manager recently, two of the core questions I used were “What is your definition of HR?”, and “What is the key goal of the HR function?” What was supposed to be a basic question designed to warm up the candidate and glean some information about their philosophies quickly became one of the most important questions I asked. I was struck by the range of answers I received, and the fact that no two candidates shared similar views on the subjects, despite sharing similar qualifications and levels of experience.

I was equally struck by this question when, as part of creating our website, I learned that the most searched term in relation to HR is “What is HR?” Here was I expecting to be enlightened as to what New Zealander’s are looking for from HR; is it performance management systems, recruitment services or employment relations advice, but no, what they really want to know is what we actually do!! And is it in any wonder when there are so many strings to the HR practitioner’s bow? Upon reflection, however, these differences and the answers were crucial in the recruitment decision and have proved equally valuable to consultants in finding businesses who align with our thinking, and where we can really add value.

In my discussion with HR professionals three trends emerged;

1. The first type of HR candidate described HR in terms of compliance and focused heavily on managing risk and employment relations

2. The second saw the role as employee support, a voice for employees and spoke about engagement and employee driven initiatives

3. The last group of candidates viewed HR as supporting business goals and described productivity increases and contributions to business metrics

Gaining value from these insights is in having the discussions with senior management and establishing what they expect from HR, and what they believe is the key goal of a function. If the expectations of the businesses leaders don’t align with the HR professional/consultants it’s an uphill battle for the function to be successful and gain the respect it deserves. If the thinking is similar then HR is sure to be a respected and valued partner in the business and the relationship will flourish.

Our lesson from this is to be clear on our philosophy, and what we believe we stand for as a consultancy. We have also learnt to have these conversations with the businesses we work with, and in some cases to walk away when we can see our goals will never align. It’s also a question we recommend all businesses ask when dealing with an HR professional. Ask your current HR team, your consultants, or ask us “What is HR?”. It is an important conversation and one we are happy to have.