As published in The Witness 15 November 2018 – What makes an HR team the best? by Tanya Hulse

WHILE almost every business will claim that people are their greatest asset, many are also battling to recruit, develop and retain the calibre of people they need to deliver sustainable business results. Yet, few ensure that their HR teams are equipped to support them in winning the war for talent. If you regard people as a key focus area, then the team that helps you to look after your employees must be a priority. Many companies see the role of HR as administrative or transactional at best. But that is like going into a boxing ring with one hand tied behind your back. If you truly believe your organisation can only thrive with the best people, you need to have an HR team that can help you win that battle on all fronts. This means your HR team must be able to do more than ensure your skills development reports are up to date or your CCMA cases are well-prepared. They must also be able to engage with top management in formulating business strategy, create organisational capability to achieve that strategy, and craft and drive the required organisational culture needed to sustain the business.

So, what are the requirements for a truly capable HR team? Well, your HR people need expertise in three distinct areas. The first is to be functional experts in the HR field. This includes legal and regulatory awareness, understanding HR policies, procedures and systems, and the ability to get the basics right with ease. Secondly, the HR team should understand the business in depth, and be able to “talk the lingo” with line managers. If HR lacks this insight, they will be unable to recruit the right people, or upskill them fast with what they need to perform in their jobs, let alone drive longer-term capability development. Finally, a true HR business partner will bring a special ingredient — the ability to be an inhouse coach and performance consultant, able to diagnose and solve issues with team dynamics and conflict that may be derailing the business. This requires a high EQ and deep insight into people and workplace behaviour. It requires courage to tackle contentious issues, some of which may go all the way to the top. An HR business partner will help senior teams to set strategy and goals, will help cascade these through the organisation, will support teams to create the capability to deliver, will ensure the business has cover for all key positions, and will help to remove obstacles to performance in a way that meets legal requirements and achieves business targets. Having an HR team of this calibre is a huge enabler for any business, but it takes time to develop this capability. It’s not an overnight transition, and businesses need to craft an HR capability strategy to move from a transactional HR function to a transformational one. It may include moving line managers into HR roles, and re-visiting HR job descriptions, learning pathways and recruitment specifications. But the alternative of having an ineffective HR function in the war for talent, will prove far more expensive in the long run.

Tanya Hulse is MD of Pietermaritzburg-based management consulting firm, Training Leadership Consulting (TLC).