Playing With the Big Kids: How HR has Grown Up in the Family (Part One)

Part One – Infancy

By Lynda Zugec

If we consider an organization akin to a family, we see many parallels. Shareholders provide support to an organization until they are ready to go out on their own, just as parents support their children. Presumably the shareholders (or parents) will see a sufficient, ahem, return on their investment of time and energy.

If we envision the management team of an organization as children (no pun intended), we see that HR is perhaps the youngest (and cutest!) kid. In fact, many of the activities involved in the early development of HR surround maintenance issues. Human Resources has long been known as the “paperwork processor” and/or “complaint department”, where individuals come to resolve issues surrounding “unfair play”, “getting hit by the misbehaving kid down the street” or even “being cut or bruised by an accidental fall at the water fountain”. But such is necessary for the sound development of HR.

In 2010, The Workforce Consultants conducted a survey of the organizations listed on the Profit 100: Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies. In order to be listed on the Profit 100, organizations are assessed and ranked according to criteria such as revenue, growth percentage, and profit margin. The purpose of the survey was to determine what successful organizations are currently doing within the Human Resources realm and where they see themselves heading in the future.

According to the HR survey of Canada’s fastest growing companies listed in the Profit 100, the maintenance issues are the foundation of the HR department. It is what “founds” or establishes the HR department in growing companies and start-ups. Without it, HR may not have formed. However antithetical this may be to current notions of HR as a newfound strategic kid on the block (more on this later), it is because of these maintenance issues that HR comes into being. The shareholders, or parents, needed a way to dissolve disputes and quarrels in the family while ensuring equitable treatment.

As evidenced by survey results, the most successful companies were able to quickly and efficiently manage administrative duties concerning HR. When asked to reveal “their ability to establish and maintain HR records” and “their ability to comply with relevant legislation” on a five-point scale ranging from poor to excellent, over 70 per cent conveyed that their HR department was either very good or excellent in this respect.

Additionally at this stage, HR greatly benefits by developing communication abilities as well as interpersonal relationship and collaboration skills. HR needs to learn how to get on well with older brother and sisters in other departments. Finance, being the oldest in the family, will most likely have more authority and may sometimes “pick on” HR along with other family members. However, finance is expected to hold the family together in the absence of parents, or shareholders. Much is riding on their shoulders. Marketing and Sales, most likely the second oldest and most fashionable or artsy of the bunch, will also have a say in matters and probably seek to over-ride HR on most fronts when in conflict. IT, the new kid on the block, and administration, more of a wiser older relative than a sister or brother, will also have a say, thus necessitating the development of astute communication and interpersonal skills.

The survey of Canada’s most successful organizations, or families, maintains such a stance. Interestingly, the higher level communication and interpersonal skills are the last ones to develop, just as would be expected. Canada’s fastest growing companies were more likely to respond “very good” or “excellent” to items such as “having the ability to respect others” (88%) and “understanding the informal structure of the organization” (82%) than more advanced skills such as “accurately assessing the needs of other people” (58%). Understandably, how are you to know what your older sister wants if she doesn’t tell you? Thankfully, the ability of HR to “effectively interact with others to produce outcomes” was seen as “very good” to “excellent” for 76 per cent of the organizations surveyed.

At these early and beginning stages, it seems as though there is still hope for the development of HR’s potential. What does adolescence bring?

Lynda Zugec is the Founder/Chairman of The Workforce Consultants, an international network of specialized consultants within the area of Human Resources.

About The Workforce Consultants: The Workforce Consultants is a network of specialized consultants within the area of HR. The consultants that comprise the network are at the forefront of research and practice. Professors and graduate students at universities worldwide collaborate with industry professionals to deliver organizational HR solutions.


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