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Administrative reputation holding HR back

HR needs a rebrand as a new study from Sage has revealed a majority (60%) of business leaders think HR is an administrative role.

The majority (92%) of C-suite executives asked said they think HR’s perceived value is an obstacle to the profession, and 76% said HR teams’ main focus is on processes.

A further 73% of HR leaders agreed that process takes up most of their time.

Challenge HR's reputation:

People should be HR’s priority, not policy

HR isn’t the enemy

Tackling HR’s image problem

Though disappointed by the findings, Dorothy Day, chief people officer at GoodShape, said they reveal an unfortunate truth about how much businesses invest in HR.

Speaking to HR magazine, Day said: “These damning perception statistics speak for themselves and are perhaps why only three FTSE 100 companies list an HR director or chief people officer on their board.

“Within leadership teams, there remains a lack of understanding that people and their wellbeing are pivotal to performance, value creation and sustainable growth.

“That said, much of HR is sadly still focused on process and administration and are struggling to transform as a result of a lack of investment in their systems and data insight capabilities that would enable them to be less administrative and more influential – so it’s a vicious circle.”

To challenge perceptions, Day said HR needs to make use of better data.

She added: “Having good, reliable data is key to proving the value of having a healthy workforce and HR teams today have a real opportunity to play an active role in helping leaders solve performance problems within their business.   

“To do this, and to have the highest chance of success at board level, they need scientific, measurable data to inform every policy, strategic decision and procedure.” 

Just 59% of organisations surveyed said they currently use people analytics and cloud HR systems, and a majority (83%) said not having the right HR technology is a challenge for the future.

Tamasin Sutton, practice lead, strategic HR & people experience at HR consultancy PTHR, said the future success of HR may require a rethink of the entire HR model.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “To move away from this perception requires a review of the HR models of delivery that we’re used to, focusing more on the types of skills and roles that can transform businesses at both a strategic and operational level. 

“Reimagining our work through utilising better tech solutions, disrupting the operating norms and developing leaders to support more people-centric frameworks will take us on the right trajectory to achieve this. It's time to be bold and really take a deep dive into creating a model of HR for the future.”

Boosted HR skills topped the list of priorities for the future success of the profession, followed by more investment in specialisms (37%), more technological knowhow (40%) and better peer-to-peer support networks (33%).

Will Serle, chief people officer at National Grid, argued working through the lens of diversity and inclusion will also be key.

He told HR magazine: “There’s a huge opportunity for HR to drive the diversity agenda and make a difference across not only gender and ethnicity, but also social mobility, sexual orientation and ability.

“By doing so, HR teams can ensure organisations have the right mix of skills they need to thrive and overcome challenges.”

Most (73% of HR leaders and 85% of C-suite) said the term human resources is outdated, and HR leaders and the C-suite agreed that the scope of the profession has changed dramatically in the last few years (91% and 96% respectively).

As a result, 91% of HR leaders said they excited about the future of the profession.

Debbie Mavis, group HR director at Avanti Communications, said that the pandemic helped shine a light on the real value of HR and the business advantage of building positive, healthy cultures.

She told HR magazine: “It is becoming a far more valued arm of a company; gone are the days when HR are the last to know about something. We have a well-deserved seat around the decision-making table, and I am excited to see what the future holds for the sector.”

Sage's The changing face of HR in 2024 report is based on the responses of 1,022 business leaders including 666 senior HR professionals and 356 c-suite executives across the US, UK, Canada, Germany, South Africa and Spain in medium (500) and small (522) businesses.