HR as Product: Be the Brand of Choice

Rethink Your Role as a Human Resources Department

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The HR Role Is Changing - for the Better. Copyright Aiden-Franklin / iStockphoto

It is time for Human Resources practitioners to rethink their role and that of the HR department, not only for the purposes of contributing to the organization's bottom line, but also for their own survival.

HR continues to balance the demands of several different roles: business partner, internal consultant, operational and administrative expert and both employee and employer advocate. This may sound like business as usual, roles that aren’t likely to create a mad rush of HR people arming themselves for the future.

In reality, however, they are new. Although the questions may be the same, the answers most assuredly are not. The ongoing challenge is to establish new deliverables and to sustain strong partnerships with both internal and external customers. The ability to see the big picture-and to deploy the resources to address the big picture-will be more important than ever.

Determine Your HR Department's Current Reputation and Brand

If you were to ask your employees today, "What does the HR Department do?" would they mutter something unintelligible to you and make a run for it? If that is the case, your human resources department needs to rethink its role and do some in-house marketing, marketing research and public relations.

First, you need to ask yourself some important questions:

  • Do you know what your HR department's reputation is among the employees? When HR is mentioned, do managers picture savvy strategists, backward bureaucrats, or pleasant, people-pleasers?
  • Do employees understand and appreciate the importance of the HR department in furthering the organization's mission and objectives?
  • Does the HR department make an effort to market its services to the organization? If it does not, then it has the reputation it deserves. You can, however, easily correct this reputation.

    Talk to Employees to Learn the HR Department Reputation and Brand

    The key is to open up conversations with all levels of employees, and present yourself in the role of facilitator instead of enforcer. You have to get out of the HR office and into the world of your organization’s employees.

    Finding these answers requires dialogue, which means that HR must communicate. That communication must consist of equal parts of listening and promotion.

    First, HR must listen carefully to what its customers need. Then it must promote what it has done and can do. HR staff must educate the organization about its capabilities and potential contributions. No one knows your capabilities as well as you do.

    Employees, for the most part, still see HR as "those people who handle benefits and do interviewing." To position the HR function for the next decades, every HR practitioner needs to take on a public relations role-starting with your own employees. Think of yourself as a product and do some smart marketing.

    The marketing of the HR department requires you to demonstrate your problem-solving skills, so others will know you do much more than simply process papers. The best form of advertising is the actions you take.

    By your actions, processes and programs, you can promote the HR department as a flexible, adaptable, solutions-oriented partner, a resource to whom the organization can turn when it needs problems solved.

    Your HR department can be something that helps your organization when it needs help. To make your HR department even more beneficial, read about tips for HR image, reputation, and brand.

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    Judith Brown is the Director of Research at the International Personnel Management Association (IPMA) in Alexandria, Virginia. Brown, who has her Masters degree in Human Resource Management, has been working in the HR Center at IPMA for 5 years. She enjoys traveling, reading mysteries, dancing and gardening. You can reach her at 703-549-7100 or visit their website: International Personnel Management Association.

    According to Shari Caudron in her article Brand HR: Why and How to Market Your Image, "If you want HR to be perceived as more strategic, more valuable, more credible, more whatever, you need to start thinking like a business with a product and market your overall brand image."

    As organizations continue to outsource non-value-added activities, HR is facing competition from outside vendors. If HR practitioners do not strive to build up the profession's overall image and reputation, they will lose services to organizations that understand what customer service and accountability are all about.

    These are Caudron’s eight great tips for building and enhancing the HR department's image and reputation.

    Market Your HR Department's Reputation and Brand

    Identify your customer's needs and perceptions.

    The first step in creating or enhancing a brand identity is to determine who your customers are and what they need from the HR function. You will also want to know your customers’ current perceptions of the HR department.

    Begin this process by identifying your customers. Are your primary customers executive managers, line managers or the entire workforce? What products and services do they use from HR? What would they like to receive from HR? Do they use HR services from outside HR vendors, and if so, why? How do they perceive the internal HR department?

    HR departments could conduct employee attitude surveys to obtain answers to these questions, but to get truthful and more useful information, Caudron suggests it is worthwhile to hire an outside consultant to conduct the interviews in private.

    She states that "employees would more likely state their true feelings about HR if they are guaranteed anonymity."

    It is important to conduct this type of analysis, to understand the difference between what you are providing and think your organization wants from you, and what they say they need. In today's organizations, there are so many perceptions about what role HR should play.

    HR conducts so many activities: training, recruitment, personal welfare, salary and bonus, and a whole range of other concerns, that "HR brand" development is challenging. In order to correct this, HR practitioners must research their current "brand" to figure out where they stand.

    Craft an identity based on customer needs.

    Caudron says that after you determine the needs and current perceptions of your existing customers, you can decide how you would like your customers to perceive the HR department. It is important to note that the function of the HR department will differ from organization to organization. In one organization, internal customers may want the HR department to provide great service in all of the traditional HR areas.

    In others, customers may expect HR to take responsibility for productivity and growth. You have to decide what "brand" identity works best for your particular culture and then work to create a mission statement and organization that supports that identity.

    As another example, in your organization, it may make sense to outsource routine tasks such as payroll processing so that the remaining HR staff can concentrate on more strategic matters. To achieve a solid brand identity, you cannot be all things to all people.

    You can try, but you will fail in the eyes of significant numbers of your customers.

    Develop a mission statement that resonates with meeting customer needs.

    Having determined your identity, Caudron suggests taking the time to design a mission statement that will guide you through the changes and improvements that you need to make. The mission statement should define the HR function, the values and core principles the department will uphold, and the benefit HR expects to provide to the rest of the organization.

    For example, the Los Angeles County HR Department's mission statement follows:

     

    • "To provide a human resources program that carries out Board priorities for a comprehensive and equitable County personnel system;

       

    • To assist departments in developing and maintaining a high quality workforce, enabling them to provide critical services to the public;

       

    • To establish Countywide policies and provide monitoring and oversight necessary to ensure consistent application of human resource policies, including recruitment, selection, promotions, training, discipline, employee benefits administration, workforce reductions, classification, compensation, employee appeals and disability benefits; and

       

    • To ensure fair and equitable job and promotional opportunities and services for both current employees and individuals seeking employment with the County of Los Angeles."

    It is important to have a mission statement as it helps define your future goals and direction. The mission should not be empty rhetoric. It is a charter that outlines the HR pledge to the rest of the organization.

    Read even more tips about building the HR department reputation and brand.

    Deliver your promises.

    Supposing, based on your customer input, the HR department needs to improve its customer service and supportiveness. This might require hiring more employees, empowering the receptionist to make decisions, or conducting team-building sessions. Customers want you to be more responsive.

    Caudron recommends that since forging your new identity means delivering a promise, you must ensure that the staff, practices and systems in your department all work to support the goal of customer service.

    Staff your department with people who are easy to work with and who who are willing go the extra mile for line managers. Deliver what you promise in your mission statement.

    Update your image.

    Few consumer products are packaged without a distinctive logo and type of packaging. Can you imagine mistaking a can of Pepsi for a can of Coca-Cola? A bottle of Coors for a Bud Light? These companies understand that the look of their products communicates powerful messages to consumers.

    The same applies to HR. If your HR department has made substantial improvements and changes, then you can use the packaging as a means of communicating those improvements to others. Develop a separate logo for your HR department, if you’d like, that expresses your mission, your commitment to customers, and your goals. The most important packaging piece, however, is the HR department itself.

    If you want your HR brand to deliver the message of quality service, ensure that visitors to the department get what they need, with no hassle, friction, or needless hoops to navigate.

    You can spend millions of dollars redesigning your department and developing a logo, but if the people in HR are impossible to deal with, you have accomplished nothing in the eyes of your organization.

    Spread the word.

    After you have determined your identity, created a system in which you can consistently deliver on your promises, and packaged the HR department in a manner that conveys improvements, Caudron suggests it is time to toot your horn.

    For example, if you want human resources perceived as a strategic partner, take the time to quantify the strategic impact of a recent HR program or decision. Communicate this impact in board meetings, through your organization's newsletter, your website or Intranet, or by developing special HR performance reports. The key objective, for positive notoriety, is to back up the overall message with hard data and specific success stories.

    Enhance your visibility.

    Another good marketing technique for HR, not only inside your organization, but also to the human resources world at large, is to publish articles in magazines and speak at HR seminars or conferences. This validates the internal changes you have made­ and may capture the attention and interest of your management group.

    You can heighten this visibility within your organization by including the program-specific managers and employees in the article or at the conference podium with you. Professionals love hearing from real people and they will spread the good word for you in your organization.

    Continuously improve. Keep on keeping on.

    Just as in the business world, where companies have to continuously review, revisit, and update their brands to meet customers' changing needs, so this advice applies to HR.

    In the rapidly changing world of business, the HR profession must regularly be willing to make tough decisions about what it will and will not stand for. Every HR professional can craft initiatives using the same toolbox. The best will try new things, challenge conventional wisdom, and ask more questions more often.

    With careful attention to forging an identity, your HR department can learn to provide what your internal and external customers expect. Your organization will love you and your HR staff members will take their place as players, making a difference in the real world of your organization. Your positive HR department brand and reputation will support all you want to achieve.