Perceptions and Phases of the HR Function

Over the last several posts, we have discussed that the size and the composition of the human resource staff changes as the function evolves from being transactional to more strategic. Although this evolution is not the sole factor that impacts size, it does play an important role.   What most discussions of human resource evolution miss are some of the other changes that coincide with the overall transformation of service.  In the last few decades, more human resource functions have started to assess overall satisfaction with their services.  More recently, surveys have been expanded to review the efficiency and effectiveness of the operation as well as desirability and use of services.

Figure 1: Perceptions during the Three Phases

A recent HCS survey expanded the typical question set used by most organizations and explored the perceptions of customers toward the human resource function in general.  The questions focused on what characteristics best describe the HR function taking into account its operational phase.  The assumption that drove the survey was that each phase is distinct enough that employees would view the role and value of human resources differently.  Figure 1 illustrates the results for 400 organizations in various industries.

What important assumptions can we make from the analysis?

  • Similarities exist in all three phases
  • Perception and reality change with the phases
  • Value increases with the phases

Similarities Exist in All Three Phases

Not surprisingly, there are similarities in all three phases.  The basic role or foundation of human resources is preserved through transformation.    All human resource functions are thought of as being competent, equal, service-focused, responsible, accurate, respectful, dedicated, credible, and confidential regardless of phase.  Basically, the fundamental purpose of human resources is preserved throughout the transformational process.  It is interesting to note that the degree to which employees perceive each characteristic is present actually grows as the function evolves.

Perception and Reality Change with the Phases

As the human resource function changes, the services offered transition from transactional to strategic.  While in the transactional phase, employees provide contact information as well as time and attendance data, gain access to job descriptions, and receive assistance with benefits,  once human resources becomes more of an organizational partner employees have other interactions:  professional development, career planning, and job enrichment.  The survey shows that perceptions toward human resources align with this role with an increase in diversity, fun, innovation, collaboration, empathy, learning, and compassion.  These characteristics are not present in the responses of employees in transactional-focused organizations, but begin to grow in the last two phases.

Value Increases with the Phases

The final or leadership phase witnesses the first occurrences of the desirable characteristics of resourceful, accountable, friendly, dependable, wise, and leading.  Moreover, most of the other characteristics are still present from the previous phases meaning the transition in processes and tools coupled with the additional services results in the most desirable human resource function.

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