Is HR valued only during a crisis?

About three decades ago, HR was seen as an administrative role, but now things have changed and HR is playing a more strategic role


Organisations are clearly shifting their focus to their people, thanks to the pandemic. Why? Because COVID-19 was non-discriminative. It impacted every individual living on this earth, irrespective of rank or role. From an entry level executive to the company’s CEO, everyone suffered. While business continuity was a concern, the well being of the people of the organisation became more important than anything else.

Even the manufacturing companies that take pride in their processes, machines and assets started to realise that people are the centre stage of their success. In any kind of crisis situation that the company faces, in terms of their people strategy, the HR gets its share of respect and is valued in the organisation. Otherwise, all other HR processes seem like administrative work to business leaders.

There are numerous cases where HR suddenly comes under the spotlight, such as a labour unrest, sexual harassment episode or even employee activism, which is quite the trend in tech-based companies in the US these days.

Does this mean that HR is only valued at the time of a crisis? Is it relegated to the back-end as a mere administrative department on usual days?

Robinson, an HR group director at Loft Securities in the US had newly joined the company after serving a successful stint at an HR consultancy firm for 10 years.

Loft Securities was going through a major talent crisis. It was losing some of the quality talent at the senior leadership level. The present CEO, Lucy Mayer had revealed this to Robinson at the time of joining. In fact, Washington, the former CEO of Loft, who had just departed was a charismatic leader because of which clients gave business to the company and which also helped in attracting great talent for the company. With Washington’s departure, Loft lost its shine and people started leaving one by one.

During Washington’s era, the HR department at Loft did not face any challenges. However, ever since Robinson joined the Company, he continuously faced problems. During his first three months there, Robinson found that even the senior HR leader did not respect the HR department because before Washington, it had no value.

The above case clearly exhibits prejudice. We need to understand that HR is not just a mere administrative department anymore, but a strategic one that directly impacts the business. “Now the HR as a profession has the role of an anticipator. ‘If the future is about sustainability, how will it impact the future of work?’ The answer to this would best describe the role of HR,” says Unmesh Pawar, former head & partner – people, KPMG India.

As per Pawar, the HR has a very strategic role, but the question is whether the HR leaders themselves accept this and whether the business leaders are willing to include them in their ranks.

“The business leaders are not used to the fact that HR can serve as a strategic business partner for the future. That is why, when the HR starts playing that role it becomes difficult for them to digest,” explains Pawar.

Nihar Ghosh, former CHRO, Emami, believes that HR is only valued during crisis management and not otherwise, especially in companies where people are not given much importance. “Organisations which do not invest in people policies will have this attitude,” states Ghosh, sharing that there are companies that do not invest much in people-centric policies across sectors. “Companies that find success globally are the ones that have great people policies and know that their people are the centre of success in every geography,” points out Ghosh.

A senior HR leader talking on anonymity, believes that now HR is not just values at times of crisis management, but even as a business partner. “Now businesses know that the whole employee experience and the happiness quotient of employees is important in the success of the company, and the HR can become a great business partner for better business opportunities in the future,” aserts the senior HR leader.

Given the current talent landscape, where many IT companies are facing the talent crunch, the role of HR has become more strategic in nature. However, many business leaders need to understand this and give their share of respect to them.

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