Human Resources: sounds depersonalizing, doesn't it, to describe workers in this way? It smacks of older attitudes to the workforce which are now seen as increasingly outdated. Two key assumptions underpinned the old attitudes: first, employers are rational people who maximize profits by paying only what the productivity of each individual employee justified. Thus the potential of workers was ignored in this top-down approach to management. Second, employees were seen as isolated individuals intent solely on maximizing their income.
Today, however, both these assumptions have been superseded by a re-interpretation of the term. It is now better defined as the resources which human beings bring to their places of work, thereby profiting both themselves and their company. So, what seemed initially to be an unhappy marriage of incompatible ideas has instead turned out to be a marriage made in heaven! Opposites attract, they say.
Human Resources Consulting has, therefore, lost many pejorative associations with dehumanizing work practices, and has achieved its current status by helping to empower workers to realize their potential. The beauty of this approach is that, by recognizing the worth of each individual employee and raising the glass ceiling many workers encounter, they also help companies to raise their game, too. Higher productivity and bigger profits result from tapping into that wealth of potential.
Troubleshooting is, therefore, the hallmark, highlighting the areas where best practice is not being followed. Best practice, in management terms, has traditionally centered on technology-driven innovations, for example the production line in the early 20th. century. The employee's contribution was relegated to that of a cog in the wheel. Companies today are no less driven by technology, always striving to increase the “value-added”.
The modern counterpart of the production line are the Content and Document Management Systems, Workflow Automation Applications, etc., which are introduced to help companies achieve a greater use of their resources. Crucially, though, a growing number of companies are realizing that human resources are as key to profit optimization as is technology. Power is often defined as being “soft” or “hard”. “Soft” power refers to what many believe to be the most effective type of power – knowledge. “Hard” power, by contrast, refers to technoloy and machinery. The trouble is that some companies still believe that “soft” power is found exclusively in software. True “soft” power lies in the expertise and experience of the workforce. Human Resources Consulting aims to get this message across loud and clear.
If the most effective exercise of power is “soft” power, and “soft” power is knowledge, then the increased importance given to mentoring can be readily understood. Mentoring can help reduce turnover in an organization by helping new workers to adjust more quickly to the company's ethos. Middle managers can be taken under the wing of more senior colleagues to promote their advance up the corporate ladder. In line with the “inclusiveness” ethos, women and minority workers will be encouraged to break through the glass ceiling.
Large companies increasingly recognise the need for their workforce to buy in to new processes. Small entrepreneurial setups are equally enthusiastic that any barriers ro success are removed. They have begun to appreciate that value added can only be maximised if the diversity of their workforce is taken into account so that negative practices are eliminated and positive practices encouraged. Social and cultural factors often contribute to a breakdown in workplace efficiency: as morale drops so does productivity.
“Blindness” to issues of race and gender can equally extend to issues of lifestyle. To retain valuable employees with disabilities or family commitments represents sound business sense, but that will require more flexible work schedules and working from home, perhaps. Getting the best out of employees involves not just the removal of obstacles to greater efficiency, but also the implementation of strategies to promote employee “ownership” of new work practices and systems. Worker feedback is essential too.
To sum up, best practice in Human Resources Consulting means, first, understanding that people and processes are interrelated and not polar opposites and, second, helping to implement work practices that combine the two. In our 21st. century, knowledge-based society, everyone is the poorer for failure to bridge the divide.
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© 2006 Maureen P Cook
Maureen Cook shows you how Human Resources Consulting
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