Robin Andrews, Senior Global Program Manager at Microsoft and Trinity Business School EMBA alumnus, explores the field of Responsible HR management and the strategies that help make a virtuous circle for corporate culture, employees, and business performance.
Strategic and Responsible HR Management by Robin Andrews. With kind acknowledgements to Professor Na Fu, Trinity Business School.
Leaders need to be conscious of HR and the impact on employees, as the HR department is a relatively small piece of HR within an enterprise. Moreover, the administrative aspect of HR is being increasingly outsourced to either a centralised team or to employees and managers.
This outsourcing needs to be handled carefully, as difficult life events, such as illness and death, can be covered by an outsourced process, leaving not only the directly impacted employee, but the entire organisation feeling disillusioned with the outcome.
Healthy culture, healthy performance
As such, a leader may need to step in to ensure that the strategic partnership role of HR is being maintained. Responsible HR should be an enabler, so that managers can drive the culture within their teams and fulfil strategic goals. And although it may be a cliché that a company’s most valuable asset is its people, it is true in so far as the employees are the ones that implement the strategic objectives and define the strategic advantages.
Higher quality staff provide a lead over an otherwise comparable competitor. However, people need to be developed and kept motivated. How work makes an employee feel is important for both them and the company and having a healthy place to work is critical and, as a leader, it is important to call out toxic practices and attempt to rectify them.
The framework used by the Healthy Place to Work initiative in Ireland provides some useful objectives. Even if a company does not decide to get certified, striving to meet the requirements will improve the mental and physical health of employees, increase productivity and improve reputation.
HR and AI
There is an increasing trend to go beyond merely outsourcing HR to fully automate parts of it. HR systems are a vital part of business and, certainly, some of the more routine functions can be managed through a bot that can handle simple requests. But HR is often seen by employees as being a direct connection with the company – there is a balance to strike between efficiency and relationship.
The fractured nature of an organisation adds an extra challenge to unifying HR practices, yet for reasons of fairness and legality, employees should experience some consistency irrespective of location. More importantly, companies need to have a clear view of HR resources. Building a healthy and productive workplace is dependent on the organisation having the infrastructure that supports governmental requirements, as this enables managers to drive a consistent culture through the shared corporate experiences.
Recruitment is a challenge for any organisation. Automation has also entered this area, with candidates being interviewed by a machine and recordings processed using AI technology. To some extent, ATS systems and other computer processing of applications is unavoidable – the sheer number of applications limits human capacity to process them. However, the candidate experience is also important. Leaders should require that anybody’s experience with a company is positive, especially as job applications can be highly emotive.
Too often, consideration for the candidate is sacrificed for efficiency. Moreover, there is not an easy way to identify the ideal candidate for a role. Psychometric tests, multiple interviewers and other techniques can go some way to alleviate the issue, but companies need to take a long-term view to employment rather than look for candidates that fill a very specific current opening. Cultural fit is important to build the culture that drives the strategy. Treating interviews as a tick-box exercise of requirements is a short-term view.
Environment as a means to shape behaviours
When designing an ideal working environment, an HR leader must consider the psychological needs of the employees. People do their best work when silos are broken down and they are in a position of psychological safety. An open environment when there is implicit trust fosters creativity and innovation as well as much higher levels or productivity.
Consciously trying to design such an environment may be difficult, given the nuances of human nature. However, an agile approach with incremental changes to the team can find the best organisational structures and processes that build trust, productivity and creativity, ultimately leading to higher job satisfaction.
Indeed, job descriptions need to consider the satisfaction of the individual. Although tempting to create jobs loaded with similar tasks, every level of an organisation needs a mix of tasks that give a sense of having an impact on the world, including contact with external customers, opportunity to design their daily tasks and seeing a task from end-to-end.
And a leader needs to drive a culture where this is the norm. They may not be able to control every job description, but they can encourage mangers to be conscious of this need. This also benefits managers, who have more time to focus on their own satisfaction if their direct reports are intrinsically motivated to perform.
Responsible and virtuous
HR has aspects of admin, but at its core it sets the policies that build the culture that enables the strategy that drives the business. There have been many successful companies that have had toxic work environments, but few succeed in the long term, especially in today’s innovation driven world.
For all the ‘customer obsession’ and ‘customer is number one’ rhetoric that many companies espouse, companies are made up of employees that are more central to success than any given customer. Leadership must ensure that Responsible HR people policies and processes are conducive of an environment of trust, respect and self-fulfilment that ultimately lead to higher levels of productivity and innovation.
- Link up with Robin Andrews on LinkedIn
- Read a related article: Has analytics delivered on its promise to revolutionise HR?
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Learn more about the Council on Business & Society
The Council on Business & Society (The CoBS), visionary in its conception and purpose, was created in 2011, and is dedicated to promoting responsible leadership and tackling issues at the crossroads of business and society including sustainability, diversity, ethical leadership and the place responsible business has to play in contributing to the common good.
Member schools are all “Triple Crown” accredited AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA and leaders in their respective countries.
- ESSEC Business School, France-Singapore-Morocco
- FGV-EAESP, Brazil
- School of Management Fudan University, China
- IE Business School, Spain
- Keio Business School, Japan
- Stellenbosch Business School, South Africa
- Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
- Warwick Business School, United Kingdom.