HR has continued to fail to tackle some of the major challenges that organisations face, and must adapt to remain fit for purpose. Low staff engagement and retention levels cost our business billions of pounds every year, and there is no evidence that this is improving. I attribute the problem to HRs persistence in looking inwards rather than outwards. We should, as a profession, be looking to alternative arenas to help better inform our strategies and initiatives.
Sport, for example, has fantastic lessons in leadership and team engagement, but other equally valuable lessons can be taken from other sources. As a consequence of looking inwards HR has failed to partner the business as effectively as it can. It’s time for our profession to become adventurous and ambitious in where it looks for new ideas, or risks becoming ineffective and, potentially, not relevant or useful to the business.
Every function within any business has its purpose which, when completed effectively, allows the organisation to realise its objectives and reach its goals. HR is no different. Our focus should always be on our people, and ensuring they can work as productively and efficiently as possible in order to best support organisational growth.
But do we, as a profession always ensure this?
I would argue not, and that too often we are not supporting our workforce in a way that can best drive business success. Employee engagement rates across the UK remain low, with only a third of employees being actively engaged in their organisation (E4S, 2013). The productivity of our organisations has consequently not risen to levels sufficient to support wholesale organisational growth; output per hour in the UK is 21% lower than our G7 counterparts (ONS 2014). Most tellingly, we have consistently not been able to convey the importance of our function to senior leaders, shown by HRs all too often unrealised ambition of securing the seat on the top table. HR does not always effectively added value to organisations, and been able to prove this value to senior stakeholders.
But why is this? There is substantial research on the main reasons for employee disengagement across organisations. The importance of having managers who can inspire and lead with confidence, whilst trusting their staff, has proven to be paramount. 94% of staff surveyed in one poll agreed that the line manager had a significant impact on engagement, for better or worse (Grass Roots, 2012). Without leaders who embody the values and culture of the organisation, the organisation does not operate as a singular unit that works together harmoniously in pursuit of the same business goals. Instead, a series of sub-cultures develop, and departments work in silos, isolated from each other and the core business. This leads to a disconnect of values and culture across the organisation; HR should take responsibility and work to train managers, which will develop sustainable, consistent cultures, where staff in all departments are connected, and where they work efficiently and harmoniously with each other, for the ultimate benefit of the business.
Establishing what HR departments should do to enhance staff engagement and be better partners to the business is, however, not obvious. Typically as a profession we have looked inwards, looking at what other companies have done and using those ideas to shape initiatives and programmes. I believe as professionals we need to become more ambitious, and look to areas of thought we have not previously used to develop new innovative ideas that will better support our organisations. Sport, for example has fantastic lessons we can learn from as a profession, particularly in relation to motivating and engaging teams in the pursuit of a common goal, as well as overcoming setbacks associated with defeat or not achieving objectives. The techniques sporting captains use to inspire their fellow players can correspond with methods managers use to inspire their teams; HR should be capitalising on these lessons to better inform their work, rather than ignoring them or looking to mimic what other companies have done.
Sport is, of course, just one arena where HR can learn from. Theatre, philosophy and neuroscience can all offer insight for our profession to better understand people and how to inspire and engage them. We need to be ambitious in seeking these lessons to better inform our own strategies and initiatives, and to encourage innovation rather than imitation of other people’s work. Only then can we hope to be able to better partner the business, and prove the unique and intrinsic value of our function once and for all.
Jabbar Sardar, the author of this blog, will be speaking at the Employee Engagement Summit 2015 in London.