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January 17, 2019

HR managers should stick to collaboration

An employee of the Kisii County presents his documents to officers undertaking the head count at council hall./FILE
An employee of the Kisii County presents his documents to officers undertaking the head count at council hall./FILE

Human relations professionals in East Africa face new challenges. It’s rarely enough these days for an HR manager to be a good administrator. Maintaining personnel files, redrafting the HR manual, and handling disciplinary procedures are simply hygiene factors. Recruitment is expected, and implementing balanced scorecard yesterday’s news. For the ambitious HR person, the search is on for greater relevance and differentiation.

The answer doesn’t lie in implementing systems from overseas: African HR managers should get back to what they’re good at – collaboration. A recent piece from Comma Partners, a UK change consultancy, had sensible things to say about collaboration between HR and another key discipline – internal communications. In it, Claire Grundy and Tracey Hilliard shared highlights of a successful collaboration at Diageo.

“Opportunities exist in any organisation for HR and IC to work closely together with a shared agenda –especially around culture transformation,” noted Claire. At Diageo, the pair used an Engagement Wheel model with eight sections representing the conditions needed for employees to be fully engaged. It was based on research and experience inside Diageo, and validated through the annual employee survey. It covered everything from inspirational leadership, to pride in company reputation, to a safe and comfortable working environment. It encompassed great relationships, understanding business purpose, and giving employees the sense of value.

“The model created a foundation for global IC and HR functions to talk to each other. We were expected to develop a business partnership,” says Hilliard. A shared agenda is the crux of a successful IC/HR partnership, and starts with having the right attitude.

Too often this doesn’t happen because two cost centres – each struggling to gain credibility – focus on justifying their own existence. This leads to what we call land-, or initiative- grabbing.

In times of crisis or change, a business needs both HR and IC skill sets and to work together well. When we are all focused on the ‘burning platform’ it is easier to work in harmony on the solution. The bigger question is: how to nurture a strategic relationship when there is no pressing need for it?

For some, relationship-building comes more easily than for others. You can't rely on the decency of individuals to get things done properly. Corporate structures, leadership and personal motivations get in the way and it takes more than a sunny disposition to keep things on track.

Reading Tracy and Claire’s experiences of their time at Diageo it's apparent that they enjoyed a very positive relationship. They also worked in the context of a brand-led culture with a CEO who was passionate about employee engagement.

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside

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