People, not personnel: the evolving role of HR in modern businesses

 

From keeping things legal to boosting productivity, HR has come a long way since the personnel departments of years gone by

Imagine a time when offices were filled with cigarette smoke and rows of typists. At the end of the corridor, there’s an office with a big leather chair for the boss. You’re probably thinking of the 1960s and 70s right now, maybe Mad Men (the AMC TV Show) – hopefully not your most recent job at a contact centre!

Somewhere in this imaginary retro office, there’s a personnel department. While they’re responsible for keeping basic admin records about the workforce, the personnel administrators and managers definitely don’t have a seat at the table when it comes to making business-wide decisions.

Now let’s fast-forward to the third decade of the 21st century. Most of us want to forget 2020 – the working from home, the lay-offs, the closures and redundancies, learning how to lead a team remotely while keeping everyone engaged and happy. 

The personnel department from yesteryear wouldn’t have been involved in this kind of thing, but luckily we’ve moved on a bit since then. These days we have people teams instead of personnel departments, and they’re here to help your business and its workforce remain productive and satisfied no matter what the future has in store.

 

People and personnel: what’s the difference?


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The term personnel is a bit old hat now, but for a long time it was the foundation for the way that businesses handled issues within their staff. Personnel departments traditionally fulfilled an administrative role, and were limited in their ability to create a positive culture within the workplace.

But workplaces have changed a lot in the last 50 years, from the organisational systems we use to the role of leadership within companies. What used to be the personnel department has evolved to meet the needs of modern businesses: it’s now more common to hear about people teams, who act as partners with your business and help leaders to make decisions that will benefit both businesses and the people who work for them.

People teams use consumer-standard technology to automate low-value admin tasks, which gives them more time to spend with business leaders. Unlike the personnel department heads of years gone by, people directors often have a seat at the top table, guiding leaders and supporting the business to make sustainable decisions. Their teams are involved in a number of key business roles: recruitment and onboarding, designing and evaluating training, developing a strong pipeline of talented workers, and tackling some of the most significant issues your business will ever face (like a global pandemic, for example).

 

Enabling, not just enforcing


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Of course, people teams also have the important role of managing risk in an organisation and ensuring that the legal aspects of employment are dealt with in an ethical and lawful way. Some of the tasks your HR or people team will take care of include:

  

Pre-employment checks

so you don’t employ anyone inappropriate or in a way that would breach legislation. (This is going to become even more important as the Brexit transition period ends and the UK immigration rules change on 1st January 2021.)

Championing integrity in the workplace

many businesses commission third parties to host their confidential disclosure hotlines so that employees and suppliers can report wrongdoing or corruption in confidence. When a report is made, people teams deal with them sensitively and swiftly to protect your business.

   

Managing complex grievance, absence and disciplinary matters

so you don’t break the law when it comes to dealing with tricky issues.

Restructuring

your business won’t look the same in 10 years as it does now. People teams will help you to design a sustainable structure and navigate your way through the restructure process

  

 

The right HR consultant for your business

As you can see, there’s a lot that a dedicated people team or consultant can help your business with. To learn more about the role I play for businesses as an independent HR practitioner, take a look at the services I offer, or get in touch for a friendly chat.

  

 

Image credits

The cast of Mad Men (AMC)

Typewriter photo by Min An from Pexels

Photo of Andrew Knight by Nick Morrish from Nick Morrish Photography

36 thoughts on “People, not personnel: the evolving role of HR in modern businesses

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