Is HR Navel Gazing Its Way Into 2016?

Posted by Kate Smedley on 3 Dec 2015

As we approach the end of the year, UK employers are bombarded with research and statistics lamenting the state of the jobs market and perpetual skills shortages, leaving HR under pressure on all sides.

Is HR listening or is it simply navel gazing its way into 2016? Let’s consider a few of the issues covered in more detail on our blog that have hit the headlines in recent months:-

  • The UK’s productivity gap is at its biggest since records and shows no signs of improvement.
  • Stress and well-being continue to be a concern for UK employers. The Health and Safety Executive estimate that 9.9 million days were lost to stress, depression and anxiety in the last year.
  • There’s a talent mismatch in the UK. According to global recruitment specialists Hays, we have one of the worst talent shortages in Europe. CEOs are preoccupied with a ‘scarcity of talent’ and 41 out of 56 UK cities can’t fill advertised jobs.
  • A new report from CEB suggests that 70% of UK employees are unhappy at work, claiming they are ‘stuck in a job rut’ and lack career prospects. As a result, increased turnover levels cost businesses an estimated £16,000 per employee.
  • HR can’t match machines when it comes to hiring the best candidate. A recent report found that algorithms beat HR ‘hands down’, so to speak.

Whichever way HR turns it seems it simply can’t win but progress towards change is slow. As accusations of a lack of creativity or innovation persist, HR may be a victim of its own introspection. Writing in HR Magazine, Talent Management Director Julia Ogilvy asks whether HR is too consumed with its own self-worth, predicting that ‘ultimately the function will live and die by the individual in its roles’.

As Deloitte warned in its 2015 Global Human Capital Trends Survey, HR must ‘raise its game by aligning its skills and capabilities with … overall business goals’.

HR needs clear leadership to lift it outs of its navel gazing mode but what does that look like? According to the Harvard Business Review the key traits of a great HR leader are:-

  • Developing and coaching others.
  • Honesty and integrity.
  • Ability to build positive relationships.
  • Being a role model.
  • Having functional knowledge and expertise.

On the flip side, the signs of a weak HR leader are given as follows, all of which fall broadly into the category of ‘navel gazing’:-

  • Focusing internally rather than externally.
  • Lacking strategic perspective.
  • Not thinking ahead, lack of anticipation and ability to respond quickly.
  • Resisting ‘stretch’ goals.

Moving forward

The fact remains that without an engaged, happy workforce, businesses will struggle to attract, hire and retain the talent they need to move forward.

The beginning of a New Year is traditionally a time for all of us to reflect on personal and professional goals, on what worked in 2015, what didn’t and what we can do to improve in 2016.

If HR is to act, it must act soon and bring a halt to its navel gazing, addressing the apparent disconnect within the workplace. Only 3% of employees say HR has the most positive impact on engagement levels. That’s not enough.

It begins with practical steps that can have a big impact on your business:-

  • Find out what your employees want and give it to them. For most people it means career development opportunities, not in the form of promotions but challenging assignments and projects. The CIPD’s recent report Investing in Productivity : unlocking ambition suggests 21% of businesses are in survival mode and held back by what it describes as an ‘ambition’ ceiling. This is a very real problem for HR which it needs to recognise and respond to. The benefits are well reported. Companies that are able to offer improved career development for staff can reduce turnover by a third according to the CEB report (representing a huge £4.9m saving per year for businesses with 10,000 employees).
  • Invest in people analytics. Yet again this will prove to be one of the hot topics affecting HR in 2016. Big data may as yet seem irrelevant to SMEs but all businesses benefit from embracing accessible, scalable recruitment software that offers insights into inherent problems in the hiring process, during onboarding. It also identifies what’s working so you can do more of it.
  • Embrace social media in whatever form it works for your organisation, from Facebook and Twitter to Instagram, Snapchat and even Tinder (if the recent rumours about Amazon are to be believed). 80% of businesses have yet to implement an effective social recruiting strategy.
  • Pay attention to your employer brand. Your company culture is either your competitive advantage or Achilles’ heel. A negative brand image will undermine your efforts to bring about change. Start with two simple principles. Define and communicate your core values and lead by example.

Bring an end to the navel gazing. Identify the strengths in your organisation. UK businesses need strong HR leaders to anticipate and resolve problems, to evolve and embrace change and create an ‘efficient, glorious and meaningful’ HR experience in 2016.

What’s your view? Is HR navel gazing its way into the New Year? Can it apply the brakes and manoeuvre itself into a position of strength? Is it all bad news? Share your thoughts with us.


Topics: Rants

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