Human capital. It’s a term which speaks volumes about modern business. In just two words it embodies an entire economic worldview which looks upon employees as a resource to be utilized, whilst corporations vie to command their unfair share of their respective markets.
But, people generally aren’t as simple to employ as a spanner or a wrench. They come with a whole host of complex individual and group requirements which, over the years, have been managed by increasingly specialized departments. Initially, managers who were tasked with staff issues were labeled the personnel department and were primarily geared towards hiring and firing issues.
But, as the industrial age evolved through the 20th century, so too did the need to more comprehensively address wider strategic business goals.
Thus, at some point, the notion of the personnel department evolved from being a function under the control of other arms of management to standing as a key pillar in the overall strategic approach businesses needed to compete effectively. This is roughly when personnel managers became the Human Resources practitioners.
So, if people are a human resource, what then are the most important factors in the practice of modern human resources management?
4 Main Objectives Of Human Resource Management
1. Define an organizational structure which drives productivity
Hiring the right talent for the task is only a small part of the challenge. Once an organization has captured the talent it then needs organizational structures and practices in place to nurture staff skills and maximize the return on investment in human capital. The kind of structures required for a highly technical manufacturing unit will necessarily be very different from the structure of an academic institution, or a hospital, or retail consumer-facing unit. It’s thus the job of HR to recognize the optimal structures that need to be in place for a wide range of work environments.
2. Developing effective coordination and communication within the organization
The 16th-century poet John Donne is possibly best known today for the phrase ‘No Man is an Island’. It alludes to the idea that people do pretty badly when isolated from others. They need to be part of a community in order to survive. We are, after all, the most social of animals.
Thus, in isolation from fellow staff, it is fairly obvious that many people would struggle. It, therefore, falls to Human Resources to ensure that staff hired for their skills to aid in achieving wider corporate objectives, must be given a framework that helps them succeed. HR must foster a hierarchy which achieves the best communication within and between the departments that make up any business.
3. Dedicate time to finding the right staff and developing their skills base
We definitely live in some of the most fluid and dynamic times for employers and employees. People increasingly expect to acquire new skills to remain relevant in the employment market, whilst employers are constantly looking to staff as a key part of the business’s competitive advantage.
HR, then, must not only find the right staff to mesh with the strategic course the business is taking, but then ensure that these employees are given the skills to remain valued and valuable to companies seeking to compete in an ever-more competitive landscape.
Employees find themselves operating in ‘knowledge economies’ where lifelong learning has become the norm and HR, to be effective, must be matching, if not exceeding, their competitive counterparts.
4. Embracing wider societal and ethical developments
HR, more so than at any time in the evolution of employment practices, should not only be inward-looking at the structure, communication, and training of staff but also be conscious of the rapid cultural and societal changes affecting the work environment.
HR needs to understand how demographic, technological and other important societal changes, including a potential workforce living longer than ever before, affect business. It means a constant state of disruption and reinvention as HR explores new ways of working. For example, the rise of expert systems and AI may mean a radical change in employment practices, both releasing human capital to focus on tasks that smart systems cannot perform, whilst rationalizing roles and potentially reducing headcount.
Such changes inevitably hit on important ethical and societal questions which will increasingly require strategic thought and practical implementation as technologies revolutionize the world of work.
To be competitive is to embody HR’s objectives within the organization
There’s no argument that the world of work has only grown more complex and demanding for employees as the pace of technological change has picked up exponentially through the historical course of industrialization. Roles are increasingly specialized and require a workforce that is capable of reskilling multiple times in any one career lifetime.
This is why the role of HR has moved from a peripheral activity, considered only as the ‘hiring and firing department’, to become a core management pillar for any 21st-century business seeking to remain at the forefront of its chosen market.
It’s also why today’s companies must embrace HR objectives across the organization. Success demands no less than the realization that a company’s staff, their on-going training, communication and the business structures supporting them, are at the core of today’s competitive business.