Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Exceptions and exception handling from the HR perspective 9: putting terms of employment in strategic terms

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on June 30, 2014

This is my ninth installment in a series on recognizing, understanding and thinking about exceptions, and about exception handing in a Human Resources context (see HR and Personnel, postings 197 and following for Parts 1-4 and HR and Personnel – 2, postings 201 and following for Part 5-8.)

I have been discussing terms of employment from a number of perspectives in this series, with a primary focus on exception handling, and on how basic options generally offered change and evolve as a result of due diligence processes. And in this, and particularly in Part 7 and Part 8 I have been discussing how:

• Terms of employment in place are conjointly determined by outside legal framework requirements, by outside competitive pressures, and by forces of consideration that are internal to the company and that arise from its business model, its corporate culture and from the needs of its own employees.
• And up to here I have taken an all but entirely operational approach to this complex of issues.

I stated at the end of Part 8 that I would turn back to reconsider this flow of discussion and its issues in this installment, taking a second look at them. And I went on to note that I would discuss “the role of Human Resources and its leadership in setting and implementing overall business strategy” here. And that is what I will do in what follows.

• I have often said, and both in my own business practice and in my writing that Human Resources offers essential information that is needed when developing and following through on overall business strategy, as personnel collectively form the largest source of operational expense for most businesses, and comprise its most important operational asset too.
• And I actively promote bringing HR’s leadership into the executive strategic process because of this, and with a focus on bringing in and developing HR and Personnel leadership that can think and act both operationally and strategically, and who can work with others on both of those levels.
• Terms of employment, and the management of a business standard that allows for and supports consistent and fair exception handling, constitutes the core area of contribution where HR’s leadership can strategically contribute here.

This places some very specific and far reaching responsibilities in the hands of the executive officer who manages Human Resources, and it demands that whatever their specific title, they be viewed as a peer and as a fellow member of the strategic executive team by the business and its overall leadership. If they are there in the room but only in a position where they can listen but not speak, they are not going to effectively be there and they are not going to be able to contribute any real value to the strategic discussion.

But my focus here is on what they do and what they are responsible for doing, that they would bring to the table when participating in the overall strategic process.

• Strictly operational HR leaders only look inward within their business and within their set and standardized operating procedures. This, I add, can make it all but impossible to address exception handing situations except through ad hoc and one-off means. And systematic responses and the systematic, organized operational change that this would entail call for wider-ranging vision. That calls for strategic thinking.
• HR leaders with strategic vision look inward and think and act operationally too. But they continually do so from a larger, wider ranging perspective. They view and manage their areas of direct hands-on responsibility with an awareness of how the business as a whole operates, and with an awareness of its operational and strategic contexts. And they maintain an active and ongoingly updated awareness of their competition and their industry, and what other businesses do to bring in and retain their best employees.

Part of this has to come from the manager, director, vice president for … from the leader of Human Resources or Personnel or whatever their specific title. Part of this, and an equal measure of it has to come from the chief executive officer and from the senior executive team that they lead and that they set the standards for, that the head of HR be actively included in the decision making conversation and in the processes that develop out of that.

• And in that, awareness of need for exception handling accommodations by Human Resources is essential, and at the top of the table of organization if the senior executive team is to make valid ongoing decisions for their business as a whole.
• A real need for accommodation and change in Personnel practices constitutes a red flag that if addressed early and efficiently can create opportunity,
• But it is one that if only addressed through after-the-fact remediation, is more likely to mean lost opportunity and even need for damage control.

An operational-only, rote process oriented HR director would tell you that they look outward too, and as claim of proof they would tell you how they keep up to date on new and emerging legal requirements for workplace accommodation and for preventing workplace discrimination, or for responding to it if claims of discrimination arise. That is a valid point but it reflects an entirely reactive and I add minimalist approach to understanding and responding to the larger context. I write here of taking a more actively opportunity-seeking and developing approach: a proactive approach to Human Resources and with a goal of making this service a true source of competitive strength for the business organization as a whole, and a dynamically active source of strength as the business and its context change and evolve.

I am going expand the scope of this discussion in a next installment, where I will at least begin discussing the special challenges and opportunities that arise when businesses merge, and when cross-cultural differences come into play. In anticipation of that and to at least begin to explain why I conflate these complex issues together I note here that when businesses merge, even very different and distinct corporate cultures have to merge in some way too, or at least find ways to accommodate each other. And in an increasingly globally interconnected world, businesses have to understand and accommodate cultural differences among their employees even if they never come near to facing business merger or acquisition situations. Cultural differences have to be taken into account when developing and managing terms of employment in any case, and certainly when a business seeks to remain as competitive as possible in bringing in and retaining the best employees possible.

Meanwhile, you can find this posting and series at HR and Personnel – 2, and earlier installments to this series as well as other related material at HR and Personnel.

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