James Harwood has more than 16 years of experience as a human resources executive and consultant. He has worked with Fortune 500 companies, including Intel Corp. and Tektronix Inc., as well as nonprofit corporations and small businesses. He oversees HR administration departments, including payroll, benefits and workers’ compensation, and has an extensive background in organizational development. Harwood currently serves as the president of Total HR Management.
Q. Is it now more of a challenge to keep employees focused and motivated?
It can be. It’s important for leaders and managers to be as honest as they possibly can about the factors that are driving the business decisions and the realities that are leading to some of the difficult decisions, while also trying to stay as optimistic as possible about the future. The reality is that the organizations that can survive these difficult economic downturns emerge a stronger and better company. You want to convey that kind of message and really engage employees in that vision for the future, because the last thing you want is mystery about what’s going on.
Q. How might businesses be able to maximize this economy to either build or improve their business through human resources?
There is a much larger pool of qualified candidates available when organizations are ready to hire. When you go from an unemployment rate of 4 percent to an unemployment rate of 10-plus percent, you have significantly more talented people who are looking for work. It takes a lot more screening to identify the right fit, but we’re really able to fill the positions available with top-notch people.
Q. If a business does not already work with an outside human resources firm, why might it consider doing so now?
If you want to keep your HR people focused on more strategic activities, a lot of time the HR employees at small and medium businesses are so bogged down trying to handle the administration and deal with multiple issues that they have absolutely no time to focus on adding strategic value to the business. If you can offload some of that administrative workload by outsourcing it, it really frees up the HR person to add more value to the business.