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HR needs to become ‘business-critical’


Although three quarters of UK managers see staff development as a key priority over the year ahead in order to generate organisational growth and competitive advantage, HR personnel are not being included in the mix.
According to a survey of 2,500 HR and non-HR senior managers from private and public sector organisations employing more than 500 people undertaken by the Henley Business School's Corporate Development team, the importance attached to developing HR teams has fallen dramatically from 34% last year to a mere 3% in 2011.
There is also a disparity in the amount managers are prepared to spend on learning and development over the coming year. While non-HR managers are budgeting to fork out 32% more than last year, HR bosses plan to increase expenditure by a comparatively meagre 24%.
But Nick Kemsley, newly appointed co-director at Henley's Centre for HR Excellence, warned that HR functions needed to address gaps in their structures, processes, systems, content and skills if they were not to risk being sidelined.
"This change must happen quickly. HR will need to live the values of a post-downturn world – speed, pragmatism, tangibility, impact – in its own evolution or else risk being left isolated in a business world, which has to get on with things with or without its help," he said.
In essence, HR needed to transform itself to ensure that its activity was genuinely business-critical. Such demands created both enormous challenges and opportunities, but the function had to demonstrate "a connection with business strategy and performance was immediate and tangible", Kemsley added.
The report entitled 'Corporate Learning Priorities Survey 2011' also revealed that the second most important priority for managers in staff development terms behind positioning the organisation for growth was the retention of talent (73% of respondents compared with 63% last year).
Next on the list of learning priorities came managing change in light of the continuing volatility of the economy (64% in 2011 compared with 60% in 2010) and attracting new talent (64% this year compared with 52% last year).
As to who should be the key beneficiaries of such attention, 43% of respondents believed the focus should be on middle managers, 35% senior managers and 31% new leaders who would benefit from developing new management skills.

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