Auditing the Strategic Contribution of HR

What do you look for when auditing alignment?

The audit of alignment should investigate the breadth and meaningfulness of the processes and support materials in place that ensure the skill sets needed to support and advance operational objectives exist and facilitate continuously improvement. The audit looks for evidence of this in recruitment, training/professional development, performance appraisal measures and criteria, employee recognition and internal communication, job descriptions, and policies and procedures.

Again, most HR managers will say their department does these things. Unfortunately, if this were true we would not continue to find among the most prevalent criteria for selection and promotion, height and attractiveness, most training programs applicable and of value to fewer than 30% of attendees, and performance disproportionately weighted by punctuality, team work, professional appearance, good communication and a host of other “Boyscoutesque” characteristics that are fundamentally unrelated to productivity, cost control, quality or revenue.

“The strategic audit looks beyond ADA compliance to specific requirements of productivity, quality and fiscal prudence…”

If you self-audit, write down what you think your organization’s strategic objectives are.

If in doubt discuss it with the COO. You are doing this to establish his/her highest priorities so they can become yours too. If the objectives given by the COO are unrelated to revenue, cost control etc., provide them with a copy of this article.

The abridged version of the strategic HR audit begins by filling in the following blanks:

  • The most important things to accomplish for the organization are ….
  • The goal for each is …
  • The measurement for each is …
  • They will be communicated through …
  • The tactics/actions most likely to improve our performance in each are …
  • The tactics that worked are … Those that did not are …
  • The audit process then applies the answer to each of these questions to the functional areas of HR. i.e. recruitment, training, compensation, performance evaluation, job descriptions, policies and procedures, communication, morale/retention and compliance.

If high quality customer service is one of the most important things your organization seeks to accomplish, then it should be a critical skill set sought in the recruitment process. “We do that” you say. “We ask applicants if customer service is important to them”. Frankly, even your dullest applicants know that the correct answer to that question is yes. So unless the question is more investigative it is not meaningful, not strategic. If you ask “give me an example of when you provided exemplary customer service.” The range of answers you get will be considerable. In two interviews for the same position, the first applicant’s example was that he was just leaving for his break when a customer asked if he could help. Well, instead of just going on his break, he helped the customer. Can you image?! Compare that to the next applicant who recounted a situation where she personally drove a bride’s dress that was shipped to the wrong store, 200 miles because the wedding was the next day and there was no other way to get it there in time. Both would have answered yes to the question “Is customer service important to you?” and the interviewer would dutifully check the box next to “customer service oriented” on their HR provided interview template. But unless the interviewer really understands what type of candidate you are looking for it is unlikely that they will definitively distinguish the applicants on that characteristic.

Consequently, the strategic audit, reviews the components of sourcing, screening and selection from the perspective of effectiveness in supporting and advancing the strategic objective, and not whether the box indicating that the applicant thinks customer service is important box is checked. The same principle applies to assessing applicant skills and experience in the other strategic areas of, cost control, product/output quality, revenue and productivity with the analysis applied to all HR functions.

The last time most HR departments looked at job descriptions was when we all collectively added “able to lift 25 lbs.” to the physical requirement list. The strategic audit looks beyond ADA compliance to specific requirements of productivity, quality and fiscal prudence which should dovetail into performance appraisal criteria and measures, which in turn should be used to build the training and professional development curriculum, employee recognition program, compensation and internal communication.

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