Strategic and Administrative HR Duties Don't Require Departmental Split, Webinar Told

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By Caryn Freeman

Jan. 23 — One approach to human resources is that it can be split into two departments: one strategic and business-focused, and the other administrative. Not so fast, says Dave Weisbeck, chief strategy officer at Visier, a Vancouver, Canada-based workforce analytics and talent management firm. Employers can benefit from and thrive with a single HR department focused on both administrative and business duties, he said during a Jan. 21 webinar sponsored by Visier.

During “The Case Against Splitting HR: How to Become a True Strategic Advisor,” Weisbeck explained that in the split version of HR, one function would oversee administration, primarily managing compensation and benefits, and would report to the chief financial officer; the other function would manage leadership and organization, with a focus on improving the talent capabilities of the business, and would report to the chief executive officer.

Weisbeck said that CEOs recognize the critical importance of a well-planned talent strategy but find that when they try to engage HR in more discussion about the talent side of the business, it can be “too heavily process-oriented in things like running benefits, handling surveys and labor relations.” In other words, he said, HR can “struggle to relate to the business.”

But this doesn't need to be the case, Weisbeck said. “When you put in place great HR teams that are effective at implementing the right HR programs, we know it leads to businesses that work,” he said. “What organizations struggle with is making it consistently effective.”

Moreover, Weisbeck said, the two major functions of HR can complement each other to make the department more effective. Linking staffing levels to sales goals or production targets, for example, allows HR to forecast productivity and align with business goals, he said. HR is thusly leading the organization from an administrative and talent management perspective. “So HR should constantly be living in those two worlds of when and how many people the organization needs and how much they cost,” Weisbeck said.

He said that data-driven HR departments are more likely to play a role in strategic decisions because analytical data helps HR understand the complex talent needs of the business.

Weisbeck concluded, “If you can bring that kind of analysis—here are our expected total labor costs, here is where our forecast is, here is where we expect to end the year, here are the changes we think are right and appropriate to get us back on track—the business will stop thinking HR is just delivering another head count and will start to engage in a conversation about HR's role in really impacting the business.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Caryn Freeman in Washington at cfreeman@bna.com

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