Human Resource Management – What’s the Point of an HR Department?

Human Resource Management – What’s the point of an HR Department?

That’s a strange question many might say. Why don’t you ask the question what’s the point of an Operations Management Department or a Risk Management Department or some other internal department.

Good point. You could argue that if an organisation has a requirement for an activity it is because it contributes to its success and therefore it will manage it. It is as simple as that! So why question the need for a Human Resource Management Department? Surely it’s a given! Well if ever a department comes in for a lot of ‘flack’ it is probably the Human Resource Management Department of an organisation. Some people even question the need for such a department at all!

Perhaps it starts with dissatisfaction.

I have heard the criticism of the department expressed as:

– The ‘dead hand’ of HR

– The’ lack of reality’ HR Department

– Those’ interfering’ HR people

– The’ bureaucratic’ department

– That’ tricky’ lot.

Rarely have I heard the Human Resource Management Department of an organisation referred to as:

– Our terrific HR Department

– Our really responsive HR Department

– Our invaluable HR Department

Other similar accolades it seems are rarely given.

Why is this? Is it possible for a Human Resource Management Department within an organisation to excel and gain a great reputation? Or, because of its nature can it only be satisfactory or worse?

In answering that question I believe we need to examine what the expectations are of an HR Department, particularly the organisation’s expectations of the department?

– Is it to pay people?

– Is it to pay and provide wider compensation benefits to people?

– Is it to pay, compensate, and recruit people?

– Is it to pay, compensate, recruit, and train people?

– Is it to pay, compensate, recruit, train, retain, grow and release people in line with corporate strategy?

It can of course be any of the above.

In small organisations (those employing say less than 20 people) there is no need for a department. The need is simply to pay people and it does not take a department to do that! So a person takes on the role. The person can only be effective or less effective. People are either paid correctly and on time or they are not. Getting it right is the measure of success.

In small to medium size organisations (those employing say 20 to 100 people) the Human Resource Management needs may also include delivering additional types of compensation such as bonuses, car allowances, health insurance, pensions or clothing allowances etc. Again those responsible can only do it right or not right within agreed policies. It is difficult or impossible to do it more right!

Medium size organisations (those employing say 100 to 250 people), in addition to the above reward-related services, will certainly require assistance with recruitment. A Human Resource Management Department will be involved in placing job advertisements, conducting interviews and onboarding new recruits in conjunction with line managers. The measures of success can still be objective e.g. staying within recruitment budgets, achieving timeframes, and handling administration and pay issues accurately. But, they can be also more subjective e.g. attracting the right candidates, exercising critical judgement in the interview/selection process, influencing line managers to make sound decisions. Success in these more subjective areas can only be assessed using observations of the behaviours, knowledge and skills the department’s staff use in this area.

Medium to larger size organisations (those employing say 250 to 1000 people) will require all of the HR services needed by medium sized organisations but will also be needing corporate training and development programmes and a more formalised approach to Human Resource Management generally e.g. a job evaluation process, performance management process, talent development process and succession planning process. The effectiveness of selected training and development can be measured by third party feedback e.g. the thoughts and views of trainees and their managers on the quality and relevance of the training, customer feedback on changed behaviours of staff, and the feedback of owners of the business on perceived increased levels of staff motivation and happiness. The adoption of the more formalised approaches to Human Resource Management can of course be objectively measured.

So now we come to the large organisations consisting of 1000+ employees. How should they be using their Human Resource Management Department? Well of course in the same way as medium to large size organisations the larger they are the more they should be looking to their HR professionals to be pro-active in the areas of providing guidance and advice on handling people related issues surrounding mergers/acquisitions/sale of the business or parts of it, international or global expansion, best practices in the area of capability management, employee productivity improvements including introduction of more automation , and management of trade union relationships if they exist. The department’s role becomes far more strategic. Its success in these high levels of involvement is measured by outcomes, observed behaviours and third party comment from both within and from outside the organisation e.g. journalists’ opinions.

So there you have it. A brief answer to the question ‘ What’s the point of a Human Resource Management Department’. Of course my descriptions of the different roles and responsibilities of HR by size of organisation is a simplifaction and in reality organisations will look to the involvement of people in HR issues according to their needs and not just their size.

However, the truth remains that to answer the question beginning with the words: ‘What’s the point of…? you need to be clear on three things:

– What is the identified requirement?

– How will success be measured?

– What is its increasing contribution to the success of the organisation?

And of course as a Human Resource Management Professional myself I would be asking those same questions of all the different departments within an organisation?


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