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The new role of HR in corporate South Africa

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HR as a function and a profession is transforming – willingly or unwillingly, writes Carol Allen-Payne, partner at the Centre for Conscious Leadership (CCL).

No more the traditional administrative and process-focused role of the past. What business needs now is a strategic partner that is initimately involved in both the strategy and the operational aspects of the company. Jack Welch in his book, gives an indication of the pivotal role a strategically focused HR team can play in the overall success of a company.
To meet the challenges of this new role – that of business partner – HR professionals have to develop a deep and strategic understanding of the business they are in, the industry in which they operate, and the global market dynamics which impact their organisation.  HR practitioners have to drive their own awareness, skill and capabilities to generate innovative and practical strategies that deliver against business objectives.
The option of serving the administrative and rule enforcement needs of business – a role HR has become accustomed to – is falling away.  Corporate South Africa, like corporate America and Europe, is realizing the strategic, the cost, and the efficiency benefits of outsourcing this administrative role to specialized and expert service providers.  
Doing the numbers, so to speak, has lead businesses to the inescapable conclusion that efficiencies and economies of scale, mean that organizations specializing in certain administrative and operational aspect of HR, for example, salary administration or Industrial Relations, are able to offer a high level of service at a cost effective rate.
That is, experts may be more effectively accessed on an outsourced basis rather than integrated into the structure of the organization. This review of HR services has also significantly impacted what aspects of HR are identified as areas to be outsourced.  There are pros and cons to outsourcing, and this area is dependent on industry sector and individual organisation dynamic.
However, every forward thinking HR function should be reflecting on the implications and benefits of some degree of outsourcing.
So where does this leave the in-house HR function in corporate South Africa?  Put bluntly, it has no alternative but to step into the business partner role.  Organisations have restructured, reprocessed and ‘restrategised’ every part of their operating processes – there is now little room left in most organizations to cut costs or significantly improve operating practices.
The realisation that people are the key area for driving growth is now well documented in current business literature and tangibly built into the strategies of every large organisation globally.  Talent management is the buzz word of the day – finding , developing and keeping talent, is probably the most important aspect of most organisation’s strategic plan.
Talent acquisition and management, skill shortages, challenging health issues in the workforce, organization culture and operating dynamics – these are all critical strategic imperatives for most businesses.
To meaningfully impact these business challenges, HR functions are now under pressure to develop innovative and integrated strategies to ensure they play their part in driving their organisation’s success going forward.