How to develop a more effective human resources department

Russ Elliot, Senior Vice President, Human Resources Director, Bridge Bank

Human resources departments provide two kinds of services: administrative and strategic. Russ Elliot, senior vice president, human resources director at Bridge Bank, says initially, it’s critical to develop effectiveness and efficiencies on technical aspects of human resources. The next step is to develop an understanding of the core business and use your combined knowledge of HR technical competencies, the business and its employees to influence the business direction, its goals and ability to perform.
“The key initially is listening to understand that each area of an organization is slightly different, requiring an unique set of resources and support,” Elliot says.
It’s important to understand the culture and subcultures, the direction the business leaders want to go in and the vision of the CEO so that the HR employee can assist in the journey to get to that vision.
“It’s a lot of listening at all levels, one-on-one with employees from across the organization, and taking all of that in to really understand the patterns,” he says.
Smart Business spoke with Elliot about developing your HR department to have the greatest impact on your company.
What makes HR effective?
It’s a complex role because you have to pay attention to the company’s needs and goals while ensuring employees’ rights and needs are met. The department’s responsibilities vary from benefits and compensation to training and organizational effectiveness.
HR is most effective when run by a skilled and well-rounded staff with a reputation of being trusted with important confidential information. An effective HR department helps the company culture grow with the business and becomes the path to honest and valuable feedback from the employees to the leaders of the business. HR directors need to understand the whole business and deliver approaches on attraction and retention to meet business needs. Finally, an effective HR department must look ahead. With knowledge of the whole business, it can use that to contribute to the growth and strategic direction of the entire company.
What are good sources for finding qualified candidates?
Employee referrals are often the best source because employees understand the demands and culture of the organization to know good candidates. It’s a wise recruiting approach to have employees network with industry peers, so if there is an opening they can find a good fit. There also are posting resources such as the company website, LinkedIn, CareerBuilder and Craigslist. The key is to identify the best resource for each job because IT candidates will likely not be looking at the same websites as sales employees. Also, college recruiting is important for entry-level professional positions. Regular presence on college campuses helps to develop the company reputation.
How can human resources become a strategic business partner?
Only after HR has shown it can handle, with little or no issues, the administrative side can it begin to influence the strategic side of the business. An HR professional must first develop consistent trust and confidence with the leadership over time. Then, HR professionals can work with executives on the business direction and performance expectations and actively contribute to deciding what tactics are required for managing talent to achieve those goals. They also must offer C-level executives different strategic solutions. HR has a unique perspective of the entire organization and best offers ideas involving all departments and divisions. Becoming a strategic business partner requires a high level of competency on the HR issues and a strong understanding of the business issues.
What are the keys to an effective and efficient business?
It’s critical for organizations to understand how they’re different from other businesses delivering similar products. In other words, organizations need to know and utilize their unique culture to maintain a competitive advantage. Other critical aspects of organizational effectiveness that HR can impact are:

  • Hiring employees who thrive in that culture.
  • Ensuring there are common systems that provide honest and valuable feedback to all levels of the organization.
  • Creating methods of engaging employees to use their best talents.
  • Ensuring employees understand the company goals with regular updates and how the employees can affect those goals.
  • Providing an environment of continuous improvement, collaboration and teamwork.

For service businesses, it is important to ensure every employee understands the importance of being customer centric.
What can HR do to assist companies in becoming more innovative and leading edge?
HR needs to partner with leadership on innovative programs that could include:

  • Leadership development programs  combining theory and practice with assignments.
  • Finding opportunities to give visibility to CEOs from the employees’ perspective, such as a monthly lunch with small groups.
  • Culture and internal customer service surveys that regularly measure effectiveness and progress.
  • Cross development and continuous development teams that solve real problems in effectiveness and efficiency.
  • Mentor programs.
  • New hire onboarding that provides new hires with a clear picture of company culture, history and goals of the organization.

Cultural surveys help depict the work environment. Ask employees a series of standard questions, repeated every two years, to see what has improved and what hasn’t. When employees rate something low on a survey,  work to understand the meaning behind the words. Pull a group together to understand why it rated low and then you’re able to tackle the real issues and make an improvement in the culture.
Russ Elliot is senior vice president, human resources director at Bridge Bank. Reach him at [email protected] or through LinkedIn.
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