HR is often seen as the enforcers. The hirers and firers. The keepers of the organization’s rulebook. But besides policies and payroll, what is HR really for? Where exactly is its value – and why is it that so many organizations put HR at the heart of their operations?

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As your organization grows, it’s almost as if setting up your HR simply comes with the territory; rather like getting bigger data servers. Useful on a practical level – but hardly a game changer for your organization.

If HR doesn’t matter – then why bother?

Could we get away with ditching HR altogether? A few years ago, an article in the Wall Street Journal made a case for it. On one level, it made perfect sense. Of course you need processes for managing “hiring, firing and benefits” – and you also need a way to deal with things like salary negotiations, internal disputes and the host of other personnel issues that can crop up from time to time.

What the author questioned was this whole idea of HR “which claims dominion over everything.” This is the idea of HR as the gatekeeper, undertaking needless bureaucratic tasks that “stifle innovation and bogs down our businesses with inefficient policies and processes.”

Payroll, perks and benefits can all be handled by computer. If you need to hire, external recruitment agencies can handle the whole process for you. And as for conflict resolution; who better to handle it than the managers on the ground?

All of this makes sense because of one simple reason: the organization doesn’t consider HR to be strategic, and certainly not a must-have within the business. Instead, HR is viewed only as a bunch of unnecessary processes. So from this viewpoint, it’s perfectly natural for a business to see HR as redundant.

Anyone can recruit. It takes something special to retain.

People often talk about the recruitment process. But when was the last time you heard someone mention the retention process? You spend more time working than doing anything else in life so why would someone want to stay at an organization that doesn’t care about an employee’s experience at work.

It’s no accident that the first time many organizations start to realize the benefit of HR is not when they want to find employees – but when they realize the value in keeping them. Organizations don’t want the endless cost and disruption of staff turnover. They don’t want their organization to be seen as a stepping-stone for up and coming talent. And they want to develop a workforce that’s capable of meeting whatever challenges the organization is faced with.

Defining your core values, finding new hires who embody those values, building a culture that reflects those values and that people want to remain a part of: none of this is ‘easy’.

This is where the value of HR rests. It’s why it exists. It goes far beyond simple processes such as payroll and disciplinary procedures. It requires thoughtful planning, careful implementation and constant review. In other words, it requires a strategy.

If you only see HR as the role that takes care of the hiring, firing and keeping you out of court, then they will always be an afterthought or “necessary evil”. But at some point, you’re likely to realise a simple fact: how well your business is doing depends on how well your people are doing. Well employees only exist in organizations that put a focus on creating a healthy culture and use HR as a strategic tool to thrive not just survive!