Magazine article Workforce

How HR Balances Customer Demands

Magazine article Workforce

How HR Balances Customer Demands

Article excerpt

SPECIAL REPORT 360 degree View of HR

Yes, the job comes with substantial expectations, and some of them are contradictory. Nevertheless, HR can not only cope, but thrive. The key is understanding the job's

customer focus: if HR isn't serving an external customer, it should be serving someone who is.

espite the tremendous expectations of its many varied constituents, HR professionals are coping-and even thriving. There are many ways of dealing effectively with the countless pressures, but there is really only one strategy: "HR must be customer focused;" says Paul Benson, who has 30 years of HR experience in organizations such as Kraft Foods, Pizza Hut, and Kaiser Permanente. He interprets that customer focus broadly.

Alan Wolfson, a New York-based HR consultant with the Hay Group, concurs. "If you're not serving an external customer, your job is to serve someone who is," he says. "The HR organizations that score highest in any internal assessment are those that have a focus on internal customers."

Is that really all there is to it? Yes and no. Accepting the value of having a customer focus is one thing; making it happen is another. Benson acknowledges that "it takes time to get the process right." Carrie Shearer, an HR professional in Ithaca, New York, who has more than 30 years of experience, says it's important that setbacks not be seen as failure. They-and Wolfsonalso agree that it's important to have a plan.

Benson draws a metaphoric triangle. "Start with selfclarity," he suggests. "Ask yourself, 'Who am I?' and 'What's my contribution to the organization going to be?.' The third side of the triangle is to determine what the ultimate outcome for the organization should be and then figure out how to link the three ideas.

In considering the outcome for the organization, however, it's vital to look outward. "Never assume you know what customers want," Wolfson says. "Giving customers only what you currently have or do is arrogant." He calls on HR professionals to use their consulting skills to help customers define what they need. Giving customers exactly what they want, when they want it, defect-free, at a competitive price is useless, he points out, if it doesn't solve their problems.

How does HR know when it's successful at solving customer problems? Too often, HR relies on what Wolfson calls "friends of the family" who offer subjective feedback and tend to say what HR wants to hear. Instead, he says, there are four requirements that any HR organization must meet before it can truly be customer-focused:

1) HR must have service standards for its internal customers (e.g., the time to provide new-hire candidates, a tangible measure of the quality of those candidates, or the timing of new-hire orientation).

2) HR must be organized to easily serve internal customers (can managers get the help they need from a single source, or do they have to call different people for help with different issues?).

3) Measurements must be customer focused (assessments of training-program quality are more important than how many programs were delivered, for example).

4) HR must get meaningful objective feedback from its customers including stakeholders, top management, line management, and employees.

To achieve those requirements, he suggests using every tool available:

* Organization structure within HR

* HR communications (formal and informal)

* Re-engineering HR processes

* Eliminating unnecessary measurements

* Setting service standards jointly with clients

* Participation (involving HR's constituencies)

"HR and management need to sit down and come

to an agreement as to what is most important and how HR fits within the company," agrees Shearer, noting that "administrivia" and strategic issues can't have equal priority.

But what if the items management and employees each want are different? …

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