NHS managers can add value to their organisations by recognising that human resources teams are integral to corporate success, not peripheral, writes Greg Brown

HR departments were the subject of a pretty dire portrayal in a recent episode of a popular TV hospital drama. Their value to large, complex organisations was understated and undermined, no doubt making many an HR professional uncomfortable at best and fuming at worst.

The episode featured an ineffectual, touchy-feely HR manager who regurgitated cliches to a colleague in crisis instead of helping them devise a solution.

We all know this is not how HR really works, but the scenes will have made an impression on many of the show's several million viewers.

Taking stock

The show portrayed an outdated model of HR that has no place in the modern world. Boards, leaders and managers need genuine support from HR to help them achieve strategic and operational objectives. HR teams contribute specialist knowledge, skills and experience and offer a value for money service.

HR should be positioning itself as a business partner, building business credibility, influence and added value. Some key questions can help you asses whether you are making the most of your human resources team.

Can your HR service effectively help you deliver your business plans?

A recent client of mine, keen to distance itself from its public sector equivalent of a parent company, recruited its first-ever head of HR. However, neither the chief executive nor his team had clearly articulated their expectations of the role - they just knew they needed one. As a result, the postholder was frustrated and working at about 40 per cent of his potential, which affected the whole HR team and their contribution to the business.

What makes some organisations view HR as integral to corporate success and others see it as peripheral? Is it affected by their understanding of what HR is about or perhaps the perceived ability of HR personalities to contribute?

To what extent does your HR team have a vision for the service they should be providing, and is it properly aligned with the organisation's vision, values and strategy?

One HR department I worked with recently concluded that until they were clear as to what service they were providing, they could not provide a professional, outcome-focused service for their customers.

How fit for purpose are current HR roles and skills to achieve the vision? What does your organisation expect of HR? What competencies are needed to operate as a true business partner or internal consultant involved in, and sometimes leading, complex change?

The same client recognised that the HR team did not really understand the business, so now it invests time shadowing colleagues and customers.

How strategic is your HR team and how effectively do they maintain focus on the big picture, while still delivering essential transactional work?

Like the rest of us, HR staff sometimes spend too much time on doing things right, rather than doing the right things.

So much of the business of the public and independent sector is subject to scrutiny and regulation. How do you know if your HR team is providing a good-value service focused on doing the right things?

Effective HR professionals will welcome review as an opportunity to improve and make a greater contribution to the organisation's success, while boosting their internal credibility and influence.

I recall reading an article written by a chief executive that extolled the virtues of her HR director. When she first took up post, her inclination was to hide HR away, but it quickly became one of her first ports of call when making strategic decisions, with the HR team members indispensable contributors to the business.