Working in Human Resources is difficult

How many times have I heard that remark? How easy it is to work in Human Resources because all we do is interview, write up some employment contracts and drink coffee and eat cookies all the time. And sometimes we send someone random to training or train them internally. It’s just that working in a good HR department is also about things that are not so visible, but have a major impact on the future success of the company. That is, if we’re doing HR management right. Yes, HR work is often about being involved in critical and strategic projects that lay the foundation for future growth.

It is not the fault of our environment that they think our work is easy and not important. It’s our fault, we the people in HR, that we can’t explain what the point of our efforts are. We have a long way to go before we can convince the outside world that having great HR is really good for the company. In the meantime, we’ll have to listen to the snide remarks.

They are often from those who say they would give such a job to the left because it’s nothing. We just talk to people in the company all the time. Oddly enough, often those same managers call in needing help when two accountants want to sit by the window and two others are arguing about how the air conditioning will be set. In fact, such a situation can paralyze their entire accounting department and they suddenly don’t know how to handle it. And that’s just a little tidbit, right? Let alone when it comes to a few key people quitting, even though they’ve known about the risk for a long time. Then the real mess starts and suddenly HR is very important.

What is working in HR really about and where is the added value? That is, assuming it is done right? Moreover, in the Czech Republic, where really good HR management is still in its infancy and the vast majority of us still have a long way to go before we can fully compare ourselves with the Anglo-Saxon approach to HR.

HR has three levels

When people talk about HR, they never talk about the same thing. Each company has its own specific needs and is willing to invest in a certain range of services that it considers important. Or it simply can’t afford others at that moment. Or it doesn’t believe that better services would be worthwhile.

Of course, we would all like to do strategic human resource management and be a strategic partner to the firm’s leadership. It’s just that, often, management doesn’t even want to do that (look at most manufacturing companies around us). And we, in turn, lack the right skills and abilities to show by example that it pays off. The problem is usually not external, but lies within the HR department. In its people.

In general, however, HR in the Czech Republic can be divided into three groups:

  • HR and payroll;
  • Standard Human Resources;
  • Strategic HR department.

HR and payroll

The classic HR in most companies in the Czech Republic is a disguised socialist art of working with people called HR and payroll. Especially the contracts must be in order and the signatures nicely aligned. Doesn’t that bring any added value? But please, when someone sues, you’ll see that our careful approach is paying off.

The Labor Code is like the Bible in that department, and what isn’t written in the law just isn’t done. It follows the exact terms of reference and never comes up with anything that anyone else would say is a bold proposal.

Such a department provides exactly the basic service that ensures the company’s back. Unfortunately, it does nothing to prepare it for conflict resolution. Most importantly, it does nothing to address the future of the company. It’s handling all the requests from month to month.

Occasionally something extra gets done if the CEO really wants it badly. But not much invention is put into it.

That’s not to say that HR and payroll aren’t important. They are and very much so, they just don’t give the company anything extra on their own. They put together contracts and payroll. And that’s not really enough for growth. They give the company backbone and peace of mind, that’s all. End of story.

Standard Human Resources

This is already a department that goes above and beyond the Labor Code (that’s not to say it’s not followed, it’s just one of the bricks somewhere in the foundation of the building). The HR people are already thinking hard about what’s burning the company. And how they could properly respond from their position.

HR isn’t just inward looking anymore, it’s looking around. And it’s starting to address processes for others like:

  • Recruitment and onboarding;
  • the basic reward system;
  • a strong employee training department;
  • some form of partnership for managers in the company.

It’s a department that is beginning to have a voice, but often not yet properly heard. It still doesn’t have the balls to make decisions. That, after all, belongs to individual managers. Quite often such a department still hides behind internal regulations, procedures and general practices. It struggles to step out of its shadow, but it tries to do so every day.

Frankly, the vast majority of companies often don’t need much more. It wants someone to do the recruiting, someone to make sure the open positions are hanging in the right places, and someone to make sure the candidates move smoothly through the system. And at the end, someone writes the employment contract.

The remuneration system usually involves a system of positions, but it is more of a recommendation than a system for the company to follow. Every more powerful manager will still negotiate an exception for their people, and that’s a big internal equity problem.

HR usually establishes partner positions for individual managers and departments, but they often don’t yet know who to play with. Sometimes they become agents of those managers in HR to negotiate some minor benefit or exception.

Of course, this is the stage from which the right HR department can grow.

Strategic HR department

Such an HR department doesn’t look too much inward. It is focused outward, into the company and the external market. It looks at how the competition is performing and focuses on getting the right know-how into the company to provide some of that competitive advantage (more in critical HR activities).

Such a department focuses on things like:

  • Managing employee and company-wide performance;
  • Organizational design and its integration into all HR processes;
  • Employer Brand and Strategic Recruitment;
  • Succession management and know-how development;
  • strategic compensation;
  • True partnership with managers.

Such a department doesn’t talk much about the Labour Code; it treats it as one of the conditions of employment. It does things that are good for the company and the employees and ensures that everything is fully compliant with what the Labour Code and the state require of the company.

HR is interested in how the company is doing today and how it will do tomorrow. It manages performance and ensures that the company is prepared for its future. Clearly, it needs a clear corporate vision and strategy to do this. But then it needs to be able to find its own way to fulfill it.

It’s often a challenging journey, but on the other hand, it’s also a journey that’s a lot of fun. And that’s the kind of work we should want in HR (and I’ll certainly write more and often about strategic HR management).