HR Values Itself More Highly Than Others Do

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

Jan. 29 — The HR department sees its own performance in a more positive light than others do, two recent surveys indicate.

That HR honors its own performance more highly than non-HR senior managers is not a new finding , but the discrepancy is striking. “There is often a substantial difference in perception between HR and non-HR” as to whether HR departments are functioning in a way that is tactical, operational or strategic, Helen Fisher, senior consulting analyst with Canada-based HR consultancy McLean & Company, said in a Jan. 28 webinar sponsored by the Human Capital Institute. “HR needs to understand why this gap exists,” she said.

Fisher explained that in McLean & Co.'s schema, a “tactical” HR department is one that carries out compliance and other basic tasks; an “operational” HR department performs a wider variety of functions and plans ahead one to two years; and a “strategic” HR department carries out a “comprehensive” set of tasks and plans ahead three to five years.

“Non-HR respondents were 1.8 times more likely than HR respondents to see their HR department as tactical” (67 percent to 38 percent), according to a survey McLean & Co. conducted in November, she said. By the same token, HR respondents were nearly twice as likely to pride themselves on being strategic as non-HR respondents were to see them that way (25 percent to 13 percent; this portion of the survey had 578 respondents).

Similarly, in a report released late last year, the Society for Human Resource Management noted that “HR professionals see themselves as strategic, but the question of whether other business functions share this view is still sometimes debated.”

More specifically, “the most common view of HR was as a combination of a transactional and strategic function,” SHRM said in the report sent to Bloomberg BNA Jan. 29 by spokesperson Kate Kennedy. “Not only was this the most common view among the non-HR senior executives surveyed, it was also the view they felt was most commonly held by their C-suite counterparts.”

Perceptions of Basic Effectiveness

The perception gap extends to HR's basic competency. “HR and non-HR respondents differ in their assessments of overall HR effectiveness,” Karen Mann, senior director, HR research and advisory at McLean & Co., said during the webinar. About one-third (34 percent) of HR respondents judged their department to be “very effective,” versus just 22 percent of non-HR respondents.

It was also striking that in large organizations (with more than 2,000 employees), all respondents saw HR as “much less effective” than their counterparts at small- and medium-sized organizations did, Mann said (18 percent versus 30 and 35 percent, respectively, of 576 respondents).

One solution is for HR to become truly strategic, she said; departments that fit that bill were judged effective by 53 percent of all respondents, versus 27 percent for HR departments that were deemed operational and 22 percent for those deemed merely tactical in their functioning.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at mbermangorvine@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bna.com