Keeping HR Managers At The Forefront of Talent

The most vocal critics say HR Managers focus too much on administrative work and lack vision and strategic insight. The harshly put feelings aren’t new. They’ve erupted because people don’t like being told how to behave. We get particularly defensive when we’re instructed to change how we interact with people, especially those who report to us. The HR makes us perform tasks we dislike, such as preventing us from hiring someone we “just know” is a good fit, or documenting problems with difficult employees.

Usually when companies are struggling with productivity issues, HR is seen as a valued partner. When things are going smoothly, managers tend to think, “What is the HR doing for us, anyway?”

This doesn’t mean HR is above criticism. There is plenty of room to improve and yet, little has been done in the past. In the early 1900s when the U.S. economy was booming, recruiting and retaining workers was a difficult thing to do. After the World War II, U.S. industry suffered from an exponential talent shortage. A lot of small companies went out of business, and many big ones had to be sold.

HR Managers At The Forefront of Talent

In the leadership avoid, modern HR was born. The HR manager’s ushered in practices such as job rotation, coaching, developmental assignments, 360-degree feedback, and succession plans. This sound routine today, but there was quite something back then. The need to include such practices arose mainly to attract and retain talent post the World War II. HR became not just a powerful function, but one voted the most glamorous by business executives.

The economic slowdown of the 1970s eliminated labor shortages had business leader design programs to identify and develop good managers and workers. Supervisors spent less time on their direct reports. They had people working under them to manage everybody else, and other tasks were now given a higher priority. During the 1980s, when it found that managers found people-management tasks too distracting, they were allowed to devote less efforts to evaluation and coaching. The HR Manager’s tasks were now inclusive of hiring, retention and evaluation and coaching. While at the same time, tasks traditionally performed by HR were now pushed onto supervisors.

HR is now in the position of trying to get those supervisors to follow procedures without having any direct power over them. This is more commonly known as “managing with ambiguous authority,” where those on the receiving end feel it’s like nagging.

As the economy recovers post the 2008 Great Recession, businesses are now looking to HR to speed things up. The expertise will help companies get ahead of debilitating market shifts. What can the HR do to lead the change?

Chief executive officers and other executives are rarely experts on workplace issues. Whatever experience they have comes through training programs and assignments in which they could have learned effective people-management practices. HR teams can articular a point of view on people-management topics relevant to the business.


A report published at the beginning of the 2008 recession noted that only a third of HR departments were consulted on company decisions about who to layoff. This is one area where HR has the most expertise of any function.


Many organizations don’t allow managers with no training in the recruitment process. The HR can provide training in interviewing candidates, which would reduce the risk of litigation and the cost of poor hires.


Managers who want to retain control often resist working from home and telecommute. HR leaders know these arrangements can make the workplace more productive.


Most companies are now stepping away from evaluations as they realize the HR has been right all along – Managers need training, time and the incentives to have the much-needed conversations with subordinates about performance and growth.

HR has profound knowledge about workplace issues. Although, it makes no difference if it doesn’t help the company gain first-rate analytics such as employee data and how to gain the most from their human capital. According to a recent Deloitte survey, HR Managers felt least prepared in the area of analytics. Companies like Google, Microsoft mine their own data to predict successful hires. Similarly, IBM uses its employee database to create teams effectively. Besides the tech sector, no other company has been able to successfully employ the use of data to identify its best performers and minimize its own health care costs.

In many companies, CIOs are the ones handling big data to solve HR problems, such as hiring the best candidates and finding out which practices increase productivity. If HR is to meet goals on people management, it must either handle those analytics itself, or partner with CIOs and their teams to do the work.

Today, one of traditional HR’s biggest problems has been supporting business strategy. Companies no longer stick to long-term plans. Instead they generate streams of initiatives to address talent requirements.

What can HR do to bring the long view back into organizations? By integrating with the immediate problems that businesses face, they can help the companies use human capital and once again be reliant on it. HR should assess what initiatives should be taken: what emerging needs do they need to address first? How do those needs map to the company’s talent pipeline? How are things likely to change in the marketplace? Do we have the ability to handle those changes internally?

Companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft are at the forefront of HR innovation. This is largely because each of these companies now specialize in talent. Human capital is their biggest asset. This doesn’t mean that other sectors are falling short. For instance, JP Morgan is now using an algorithm to identify candidates who are likely to break the rules. Now is the time to reimagine how to handle human capital more broadly. Companies should treat HR more than just a cheerleader for an initiative to draw talent; otherwise leaders will take on another task for attracting and retaining talent and end up burning more capital in the process.

Priyansha Mistry
Currently editor at The HR Digest Magazine. She helps HR professionals identify issues with their talent management and employment law. | Priyansha tweets at @PriyanshaMistry

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