Achieving Strategic Human Resources Management

Achieving Strategic Human Resources Management

Despite several declarations by senior executives that human resources is their greatest assert, the situation on the ground in most organisations does not portray this scenario. With the exception of those organisations where best practice policies have been crafted and are implemented professionally the majority of organisations have no human resources practices to talk about. This has led to frustration especially for most human resources professionals. There are number of reasons why such a situation is prevalent in many organisations.

The first reason why human resources as a function is sometimes neglected has to do with the calibre of people manning this function. The majority of people who are in human resources or leading this function do not have the relevant competencies required to run this function. Some have the qualifications including MBAs but they do not have the foundational competencies to run the HR function. It would seem people who have failed in other departments finally find their way into the human resources department. Effectively the human resources department has become a dumping ground for those who have failed elsewhere. How can colleagues take this function seriously? What they know is that half the time the department is manned by incompetent people. This has even extended to consulting, where individuals who have failed in their functions then decide to run consulting firms to advice corporates on human resources. How can someone be a consultant when they do not have the skills in the first place? The major reason why human resources seems to be the easier profession is that there are no national standards to follow in terms of both competencies and qualification. Most of the people coming out of the current training institutions are too “raw” to lead an HR function. In some instances they do not have the natural competencies needed to be successful as HR professionals. Instead of training competent HR professionals, most institutions are training administrators.

A successful HR professional needs to have foundational competencies such as organisational development, reward management and change management skills. These skills when supported by business management skills will add a lot of value to any business. My rough assessment of people manning human resources functions is that over 70% do not have the foundational competencies needed to run a successful HR function in support of the business. Most HR professionals get challenged by colleagues especially those who have done MBAs because their knowledge of the function is limited. This is one profession where failures from elsewhere are easily accepted.

The second reason why the human resources function is struggling with credibility problems is because of the structure of the reporting lines. In some organisations especially those that have no appreciation of the importance of a vibrant HR function, the human resources function is normally a “cousin” of finance. The human resources function is made to report to a finance person or administration function. With such a reporting structure the human resources function will not deliver. Apart from demoralising the person running the HR function it also creates the impression that human resources issues are not important. In such situations the head of finance or administration is clueless on HR issues and hardly listens to the HR person. If you are a CEO with such a dubious structure, you are suffocating the HR function to the detriment of your business. Human resources issues should top the priority list of every competent CEO. Instead of the HR function reporting via other “destinations” best practices indicate that it should report directly to the CEO regardless of the size of the organisation. The HR function must have access to the CEO whenever there are issues to be discussed. It may help those that doubt this practice to look at structures of most successful international organisations.

There is a general misconception that all positions that report to the CEO are of higher value. The reporting structure is meant to support business strategy. It has nothing to do with earning capacity which can be handled through other human resources mechanisms. The fear for most CEOs is that if they allow the HR function to report to them directly they would demand more money and benefits. I do not believe that people should be paid simply because they occupy a certain position, but because they are delivering. If the human resources function like any other function is delivering it must get the recognition due to it.

The other biggest threat to the credibility of the human resources function is that human resources professionals allow line managers and in particular senior executives to flout company policies and procedures. Out of desperation to hang on to their jobs some HR professionals systematically allow inconsistent application of human resources policies to suit individual executives. Some of the most abused HR polices cover recruitment, promotion and salary increases. A sure way to gain credibility is for the HR professionals to consistently defend and apply human resources policies without fear or favour. It may mean even resigning if there is deliberate abuse of human resources policies even if it is by the CEO. Some of the corporate scandals witnessed locally and internationally are as a result of non- compliance with policies.

The human resources function’s credibility problem can be solved if those charged with training human resources professionals refocus their curriculum to the needs of the business. Human resources professionals like other professions must have minimum standards in terms of competencies and not just qualifications.

Memory Nguwi is an Occupational Psychologist, Data Scientist, Speaker, & Managing Consultant – Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm. Phone 481946-48/481950/2900276/2900966 or email: or visit our website at

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