Human resources’ quest for status

The Cayman Islands Society of Human Resource Professionals held its annual conference on 10 June. Speaking with the Journal after his talk on the role of internal consultants, Steff Pamukoff, president of Pamukoff and Associates Inc., whose clients include CUC, Butterfield and the Department of Immigration, discussed some of the challenges facing Human Resources departments. Basia Pioro McGuire reports.
It’s no secret human resources professionals are now tasked with much more than just dealing with HR policies, recruitment and hiring, as well as so-called “soft” employee issues.
They are now also expected to understand business processes, economics, operations, accounting, information systems, statistical method, and strategy, among other things.
“Over the last several years we have all heard about the new economy and its profound transformative influence on our organisations,” said Pamukoff.
“For the human resources function, the impact of these new rules of competition is twofold.  HR is increasingly being asked to lead their respective organisations and also to take on a new set of strategic HR tasks to help their organisation become quick and agile.”
HR must also grapple, as do other staff functions, with the continuous need to operate in an environment of cost containment in order to bring the corporate cost structure in line with many of the more cost effective e-commerce competition.
“Unfortunately, the HR function that has typically been charged with the mandate to lead corporate change is having a great deal of difficulty managing its own transformation,” said Pamukoff.
He said the role and status of HR has been eroded over the last two decades because its value is no longer abundantly obvious.
“Ironically, most organisations have created this dilemma due to their own lack of clarity around what they expect from the HR function,” he said.
“Essentially, the HR field is viewed by its respective organisation to be either strategic, transactional, and/or in a service capacity.”        
However, the human capital of an organisation is vitally important to the viability and or financial success for any company.
Pamukoff noted that over the years through various surveys, it has been statistically validated that there is a positive relationship between the quality of an organisation’s HR practices and its economic results.
“The 21st Century role for HR is essential to the success for almost every organisation both in the private and public sectors,” he said.
“If this is not true, then why haven’t we simply done away with this function?”

Challenging times ahead
Pamukoff argued in HR’s quest for status, it must elevate its role within the organisational structure, its tasks, its people and their competencies far beyond a tactical level to one that offers transformational and strategic bottom line value.
“From previous research and survey findings, it is fair to suggest that three problems seem to be at the root of HR’s quest for status,” he said.
The first involves the idea of eliminating existing HR activities that are not value-added.
“HR departments will be forced to choose a set of tasks to cut in order to ensure that the new transformational/strategic HR services are given full attention,” said Pamukoff.
“To improve HR’s status, this need to focus will dramatically change the way HR is structured, as well as the tasks in which it chooses to act on.”
He said that secondly, many HR services and activities performed are transactional, though they are viewed as value added by the line functions.
“HR’s inability to transcend their traditional value proposition has in a sense handcuffed many HR functions and practitioners from doing what really needs to be done,” he said.
“There is an unarticulated fear for some HR practitioners that their role might become unnecessary if some of the old personnel work were to somehow be downloaded or outsourced.”  
He added that in addition, either HR has been reluctant to automate many of the transactional tasks that have been at the core of their utility to line functions, or senior management has not typically supported this change.
It follows, he said, that these tasks will blur the role of HR as the function tries to redefine its driving force and “value added” purpose.  
The third challenge facing HR requires a rethinking of what’s involved.
“If HR is charged with becoming more transformational/strategic in nature and required to align themselves with the business goals and needs of their respective organisation, it is safe to say, there are new sorts of activities that are required from the HR function,” he said.
“HR practitioners require new competencies. HR departments that have begun this re-tooling are finding that many HR professionals are unwilling or unable to acquire the new skills needed in the timeframe required to give HR the facelift it needs. In addition, it is difficult to attract new entrants with the right new skills, talent and mindsets into the HR field.”


From left, Steff Pamukoff, Karie Bergstrom, Nick Joseph, Mary Rodrigues and Van Zorbas at the CISHRP annual conference.