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The transformation of HR from supporting role to strategic partner

Human resources increasingly uses technology and data to improve employee experience and business performance, writes Deanna O’Connor

People are often referred to as a business’s most important asset, so it follows that human resources (HR) should be one of its most important departments. Once considered a support function, HR has become a strategic partner to business, as relevant to success as R&D, sales, or production. But fulfilling that role for the future will require a transformation of HR as we know it.

On a purely practical level, good HR planning is vital to keep organisations up to date with emerging trends and evolving technology, to ensure they have the capacity to take advantage of new opportunities. It provides a framework by which talent acquisition and development are linked to long-term goals, planning ahead to adequately resource the organisation in times of expansion and digital transformation. Many companies are now recruiting for roles which didn’t exist within their business models a decade ago – data analysts in construction, for example.

But it’s not just about matching resources to predicted future needs. It’s also critical for HR to work to drive the behaviours and culture that not only stand behind the brand and employee experience but also create great team performance, ultimately contributing to the success of a business.

Vicky O’Neill is Ibec’s member HR strategy specialist and understands the possibilities and impacts of this. “A human-centred approach to work design in the current climate is implicit,” she says. “By mapping out the moments that matter to consciously curate culture, enabled with the right technology, we can enhance working lives and positively shape the future of our communities and economy.”


Putting the human back in human resources

Workhuman, an organisation whose stock in trade is employee recognition software, has rebranded its HR function to call it “human experience”.

“There’s a need to put the human back into human resources,” Niamh Graham, senior vice-president of global human experience at Workhuman, says. She points to the new trend of job titles such as “chief happiness officer” as being signs in the market that other companies are “becoming more intentional about being strategic from a HR perspective”.

According to Graham, creating that “exceptional employee experience” starts with the talent acquisition process, even before onboarding new employees, and goes on to take in everything from talent development to the workplace itself. Furthermore, she advises, recognition is a key element that the HR function and business as a whole must build in, both to retain employees and boost business outcomes.

Although it seems counterintuitive to say technology can bring the human touch back to HR, Workhuman’s software is essentially a solution that builds in moments of interaction and recognition between employees.

Data driving change

Adam Coleman, chief executive of HRLocker, agrees that technological solutions can be transformative to HR in many ways. “For decades most HR professionals were so bogged down in mundane admin and policy updates that there was little time left to really focus on the people in the company,” says Coleman. “Now, with solutions to automate those tasks in seconds, time and effort can be invested in better employee experiences.”

In Coleman’s view, an area of HR that is “still maturing” is data analysis and reporting. “With the chief human resources officer taking a more prominent role at the board table, presenting tangible insights into the value the HR department is delivering and the impact it’s having on their organisation – be it time to hire, employee churn, employee sentiment or productivity – is now critical,” he adds.

Ultimately it all comes back to people; by having tangible insights and measurable impacts to present to the C-suite, HR can lobby for more investment in employee experience and talent development, and so the virtuous circle continues.

“By having a focus on your people, obviously, it leads to higher morale, higher retention, higher productivity, lower turnover,” says Graham. “They are all real business impacts, in a positive way, and they have associated cost savings with them as well as having a huge impact on culture.”

With HR becoming increasingly sophisticated and data-driven, now these impacts can be proven and measured, which can only be of more benefit to the employee experience of the future.