Human Resources Generalists, Managers, and Directors, depending on the size of the organization, may have overlapping responsibilities. In larger organizations, the Human Resources Generalist, the Manager, and the Director have clearly defined, separated roles with progressively more authority and responsibility in the hands of the Manager, the Director, and ultimately the Vice President.
HR directors, and occasionally HR managers, may head up several different departments that are each led by functional or specialized HR staff such as the training manager, the compensation manager, or an organization development manager.
Human Resources (HR) staff members are advocates for both the company and the people who work in the company. Consequently, a good HR professional performs a constant balancing act to meet both needs successfully.
The Changing HR Role
The role of the HR professional is changing. In the past, HR managers were often viewed as the systematizing, policing arm of executive management. Their role was more closely aligned with personnel and administration functions that were viewed by the organization as paperwork.
When you consider that the initial HR function, in many companies, comes out of the administration or finance department because hiring employees, paying employees, and dealing with benefits were the organization's first HR needs, this is not surprising.
In this role, the HR professional served executive agendas well, but was frequently viewed as a road block by much of the rest of the organization. While some need for this role occasionally remains — you wouldn’t want every manager putting his own spin on a sexual harassment policy, as an example — much of the HR role is transforming itself.
New HR Role
The role of the HR manager must parallel the needs of his or her changing organization. Successful organizations are becoming more adaptable, resilient, quick to change direction, and customer-centered.
Within this environment, the HR professional, who is considered necessary by line managers, is a strategic partner, an employee sponsor or advocate and a change mentor. At the same time, especially the HR Generalist, still has responsibility for employee benefits administration, often payroll, and employee paperwork, especially in the absence of an HR Assistant.
Depending on the size of the organization, the HR manager has responsibility for all of the functions that deal with the needs and activities of the organization's people including these areas of responsibility.
- Organization Development
- Performance Management
- Policy Recommendation
- Salary and Benefits
- Team Building
- Employee Relations
With all of this in mind, in Human Resource Champions, Dave Ulrich, one of the best thinkers and writers in the HR field today, and a professor at the University of Michigan, recommends three additional roles for the HR manager.
HR Role: Business and Strategic Partner
In today’s organizations, to guarantee their viability and ability to contribute, HR managers need to think of themselves as strategic partners. In this role, the HR person contributes to the development of and the accomplishment of the organization-wide business plan and objectives.
The HR business objectives are established to support the attainment of the overall strategic business plan and objectives. The tactical HR representative is deeply knowledgeable about the design of work systems in which people succeed and contribute. This strategic partnership impacts HR services such as the design of work positions; hiring; reward, recognition and strategic pay; performance development and appraisal systems; career and succession planning; and employee development.
To be successful business partners, the HR staff members have to think like business people, know finance and accounting, and be accountable and responsible for cost reductions and the measurement of all HR programs and processes. It's not enough to ask for a seat at the executive table; HR people will have to prove they have the business savvy necessary to sit there.
HR Role: Employee Advocate
As an employee sponsor or advocate, the HR manager plays an integral role in organizational success via his knowledge about and advocacy of people. This advocacy includes expertise in how to create a work environment in which people will choose to be motivated, contributing, and happy.
Fostering effective methods of goal setting, communication and empowerment through responsibility, builds employee ownership of the organization. The HR professional helps establish the organizational culture and climate in which people have the competency, concern and commitment to serve customers well.
In this role, the HR manager provides employee development opportunities, employee assistance programs, gain sharing and profit-sharing strategies, organization development interventions, due process approaches to problem solving and regularly scheduled communication opportunities.
HR Role: Change Champion
The constant evaluation of the effectiveness of the organization results in the need for the HR professional to frequently champion change. Both knowledge about and the ability to execute successful change strategies make the HR professional exceptionally valued.
Knowing how to link change to the strategic needs of the organization will minimize employee dissatisfaction and resistance to change.
The HR professional contributes to the organization by constantly assessing the effectiveness of the HR function. He also sponsors change in other departments and in work practices. To promote the overall success of his organization, he champions the identification of the organizational mission, vision, values, goals and action plans. Finally, he helps determine the measures that will tell his organization how well it is succeeding in all of this.
Beginning a Career in Human Resources
Mid-career Change and Mid-career Development
Later Career Change and Later Career Development
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