Building HR capability to drive business success

Newsletter articles

1 Jan 2014

HR Insight Issue 18

Peter Reilly, Director HR and Consultancy

Peter ReillyThere has long been a concern[1] about HR's capability to deliver against its promise of being more business attuned, more strategic in orientation and able to add more value to their organisation and its performance. As business/organisational conditions have become more difficult over the last few years, the delivery challenge has intensified. In particular HR's change management skills are being fully tested. The distinction between what HR, learning and development and OD do has been blurred in the search for greater organisational effectiveness[2]. It is no longer good enough to say that OD does change, learning and development does training and HR manages the exits, there has to be an integrated contribution to enhance people management during these troubled times.

Many organisations seeing these increased demands being placed on HR are investing in functional development. Despite the obvious cost implications, these organisations recognise that an investment in HR skills will not only bring long-term benefits but that it will have an immediate effect. The areas seen as most important to address include:

  • Data collection and analysis to improve business decision-making (a key theme of our human capital metrics learning set).
  • Workforce planning, because of the greater requirement to see that labour supply and demand are in balance, and that trained resources are in the right place at the right cost (we have been, for example, building capability at Plan International).
  • Supporting organisational and/or service change, especially where there is innovation in the model of service delivery (a critical focus of our work with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde).
  • Managing downsizing in an effective but humane way (in a sensitive piece of work for a public service organisation we are testing both selection processes and their implementation).

There are, in addition, specific interventions needed for particular groups within HR, especially the business partners: focusing on their role, relationships with customers and interactions with the rest of HR. We have less often helped with the development of HR experts and shared service centre staff, despite them having specific development needs to address.

We deliver this development to IES members in various forms, including master classes and Knowledge Knibbles, and to non-members through training events and through responses to in-depth audits of capability.

Such investment in HR skills may be necessary but is it sufficient? Obviously these skills have to be put to good use, and this may not be easy as it sounds. But if HR may now be up to it (post development able to offer greater insight, be more knowledgeable, use newly acquired skills), is the function 'up for it'?[3] Have the better-trained HR people the disposition to challenge, ask difficult questions, tell uncomfortable truths, persist in the face of indifference or opposition?

Ultimately, the answer lies in attracting into HR those who can satisfy these requirements, selecting talent with the right attributes. It also means building people management capability in line management. Intelligent customers will push HR to higher standards. Meanwhile, upping the game of the current HR generation is a worthwhile task that will bring dividends today as well as laying foundations for tomorrow.


[1] Reilly P and Williams T (2006), Strategic HR: building the capability to deliver, Gower, Aldershot
[2] Francis H, Holbeche L and Reddington, M (2012) eds 'People and organisational development', CIPD
[3] Richie Furlong, once of Unilever and the Cabinet Office, as quoted in Reilly and Williams op cit.