The new skills Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2007

In the past, the human resource department was often viewed as the paper-pushing, policing and hiring/firing arm of a company. While these tasks still remain important in order for businesses to run efficiently, the character of many HR departments is changing with the times, says Kenyon Mau, training consultant with Corporate College, based in Cleveland, a training center for businesses in Northeast Ohio.

“Human resource professionals, by necessity, are becoming more customer-centered,” says Mau. “They are becoming employee advocates, trainers, recruiters, coaches and consultants to management.”

Smart Business spoke with Mau about why this change occurred and how business owners and CEOs can best utilize the HR department to recruit and retain employees.

Why is the role of HR changing?

In the past, people stayed with companies longer — sometimes for their entire careers. So, the role of HR consisted of form-filing, record-keeping and generally depersonalized tasks to keep employees records and payments orderly. Many HR departments in companies still operate this way. However, the trend is to better utilize the HR personnel to interact more with employees and their concerns and problems.

This trend has happened for three reasons. First, many companies have — out of economic necessity — ‘flattened’ themselves, creating less layers of departments, so fewer people are around to do this kind of employee-counseling work. Second, HR departments have become more efficient because of technology. Lastly, the hiring environment today is very competitive, so HR often needs to step in to help recruit and retain talent.

What kind of skill sets do HR managers need in order to effectively step into this new role?

Human resources personnel need to be some of the more versatile employees of a company. They not only have to be completely computer-savvy with systems and databases to track employee information, but they also must have many soft skills to interact with employees. The HR manager also must be willing to take a leadership role in implementing changes in a corporate culture. These people skills and leadership skills are paramount for a HR manager to be able to recruit and retain employees.

How can HR managers have an influence on lessening the impact of the talent shortage in their companies?

The first person in a company a prospective employee meets is most likely the HR manager; the attitude of the HR manager toward the candidate can make or break the candidate’s decision to work for a company.

In the past, HR and hiring managers had a ‘what can you do for us’ attitude with job candidates. In this new talent-shortage environment, businesses that are successful in recruiting are asking prospective employees: ‘What can we do for you?’

This paradigm shift is important for several reasons. First, the generation that is coming into the work force now has a very different take on work than the previous post-WWII generation; members of this generation don’t expect to stay at a job for the duration of their careers. Many of them know that there are plenty of opportunities at the moment and, therefore, tend not to be as loyal as their predecessors, and many expect companies to offer life-balance benefits, such as flex-time, telecommuting, etc.

The conversation that needs to happen between the HR manager and the prospective employee is very different than the conversation in the past. It is more of a two-way conversation and a partnership.

What is one question an HR manager could ask a potential candidate that would reflect that shift in attitude?

One question an HR manager who is screening potential candidates could ask, along with the other important interview questions, is, ‘What will get you up in the morning, other than a paycheck?’ Listen very closely to the answer. The answer is very important because it reveals motivation. That answer could range from feeling engaged, being creative, making a difference, having good co-workers, getting good training, etc.

This information could then be passed on to the hiring manager, who could then implement some kind of a goal and incentive plan if the candidate is hired.

How could the HR manager help to not only recruit but also retain employees?

The No. 1 reason people leave jobs is not financial, but because of conflicts with managers. The HR person can be instrumental in helping resolve conflicts by acting as mediator and counselor. The employee often will not go to the manager with concerns but will go to the HR department for guidance.

The troubling fact is that if an employee is not happy, he or she will leave — and will do it in a heartbeat because there are ample opportunities elsewhere. But, an employee will think twice about leaving if the business cares about the employee’s concerns and is willing to take some kind of action to help create a better work environment. That is where the HR department can step in to fill that gap and help influence retention.

KENYON MAU is a training consultant with Corporate College, www.corporatecollege.com, based in Cleveland, which offers employers affordable, cutting-edge and custom-designed training programs to enhance future work force development, job growth and job retention in Northeast Ohio. Reach Mau at (216) 987-2925 or Kenyon@humancapitaladv.com.