HR – Support Function to Strategic Function, the Irrefutable Paradigm Shift


Ganesh Subramanian writes on how HR has come a long way from being a support function to a strategic function and why it deserves a lot of importance

HR as a function has come a long way from the days of personnel management to being an integral part of any business strategy. As much as this awareness among the business community is pleasing, it is equally depressing to see that still a vast majority of people, be it employees or businesses, view HR as a function that doesn’t deserve respect or importance.

What are the reasons for this incongruent view? The blame is to be equally shared between the practitioners of HR and the working population. In a lot of companies, especially the smaller ones, there is usually a single department that takes care of HR & Administration. What this does is blurs the distinction between HR and admin and for an average employee both of them are one and the same.

A HR is expected to repair a fan or mend a creaking chair in the same vein in which he/she does performance appraisal or recruits an employee. The employees who act as if they are apostles of good behaviour during the interview look down upon the HR. Everything is blamed on the HR, right from miniscule salary increments to lack of holidays to uninteresting work.

On the other side, HR in mediocre companies immerse themselves in sub-functions like recruitment and performance appraisals and strive hard to conform to metrics. They end up doing mundane run-of-the-mill jobs losing sight of important HR functions like career planning, employee engagement, etc.

From a labour function in early days, HR has moved on to be a business partner and then to being viewed as a strategic partner. Good companies have recognised the value of making their people function a part of key decisions. These companies are smart enough to realise that business decisions of the future need to be made keeping in mind the human aspect. The recruitment team in these companies understand the business very well and ensure that the job-person fit is tailor-made.

It is a well known fact that most of the CEOs have their hands full dealing with people issues in their career. As one goes up the corporate ladder, a business problem always manifests itself as a people related issue. It is obvious that managing people is the most challenging task that companies and specifically HR have to grapple with. A same marketing strategy can make 100 products successful and standard revenue targets can make years of annual reports appear better, but no one solution can work when it comes to dealing with people as each human is different.

Let us start recognising HR as an important part of a company wheel and give it and the people who are involved in it their due respect.

Finding the right talent

7 thoughts on “HR – Support Function to Strategic Function, the Irrefutable Paradigm Shift

  1. MMRAO

    Dear Sir,

    What an in depth and accurate analysis is this !!!
    Excellent writing.
    As long as the Companies (mediocre) look the HR as a glorified Admin Clerk, things will not change and do not help the Company to get extra mileage from HR.

    I also strongly recommend the HR Fraternity to resist and enlighten the Management with whom they are working as to the importance and make them understand how worth an HR in the Company.

    Good to see this touching article.

    MMRAO / Manager-HR.

  2. S Being

    It has become fashionable to cry HR does not get its dues and position in the boardroom. HR guys keep writing these crib articles without doing an introspection. They simply blame that the “management” does not understand the importance of HR! Big deal. Look at what we HR folks are doing for the business. We turn to citeHR because we cannot draft even confirmation letters! We do not even understand what the business is all about, we cannot tell how are we adding value to businesses. We cannot stand up against bullies who force us to do things we know are not correct. Do your job first, management will be more than delighted to keep a seat in the boardroom. They want you there more than you want yourself. So HR does not want to repair fans or does not want to even recruit? I have met with many HR guys who do not want to do IR or comp and ben as these are the tough jobs. So you want a cushy L&D kind of job where nothing much needs to be done (one will work if one wants to) and want fat increments and seat in the boardroom? Do something more than cut and paste and then stake your claim. Those who have done great work are already there in the boardroom. They have achieved what a great HR guy deserves.

    We are believing in glorious designations and hence started becoming HR business partner and so on. In reality this is nothing better than a glorious doormat in many cases as we go on pleasing our line management bosses in their favouritism in hiring and increments. Most HRBPs do not stand up and call a spade a spade. This is because they do not know their own domain in the first place. Talking of learning from citeHR (and sites like them) and sharing of pots online. Do not get me wrong, citeHR is doing a great job. But the main source of your doctors’ learning is the medical representative and not his own updating, you know the problem. The med rep is doing a great job, but the doc is not. This is scary, and the continuous shout that HR is ignored is becoming too loud and deafening. Where HR is doing good job and adding value, they are already in the boardroom, you do not have to cry for it. Business people want to add value and they realise where it comes from.

    I fully agree with Ganesh that many serious problems have origin in people issues. The point is do HR guys realise it? If management says hire this person even at a very high salary, most HR guys have no guts to say sorry you are creating problems for the future. HR should be the department to take initiatives to shun politics, but it seems to be the origin of it in many cases. Introspect, don’t blame others for what we don’t do.

    It is not about good companies or bad companies, it is about good HR and bad HR.

    1. Kaustav

      L&D is a ‘cushy’ job where you work if you want? You obviously are not an L&D person. Making such sweeping statements on an open forum does nothing to further discussion or learning and only hurts your own credibility.

    2. M M Rao

      We talked about mediocre Companies not ALL companies and yes, that Most of HRs are already in the Board Room. I also agree that most of the HRs have no guts to say sorry or ‘NO’ to hiring the high salary paid because we/they too believe that quality comes with cost. No company offers high salary just like they have plenty of money. It is an ROI factor. As long as the Company gets more service / intelligence and if it feels that the resource is a critical one and an asset for the company than anyone else in the open market, then the deserved get their due share. Let them get it.
      It is incorrect to say that HRBPs do not know about their own domain. If it is so, the Management knows it very well how to show the way for the ignorant HRBPs. We need not worry about it. I would like to appreciate Ganesh about recognizing the fact that “Good companies have recognized the value of making their people function a part of key decisions. These companies are smart enough to realize that business decisions of the future need to be made keeping in mind the human aspect. The recruitment team in these companies understand the business very well and ensure that the job-person fit is tailor-made.”

      Whoever says whatever, the role & importance of HR is increasing and it is the responsibility of all HRs to uphold the integrity for the benefit of not only the Organization but the industry as a whole.

  3. Ganesh S

    Mr. MM Rao – Glad that you liked my article, Sir !.
    Mr. S Being – You raise valid points ! But as Mr. Rao pointed out, the problem of HR not standing up for what is right is more rampant in mediocre or small-sized companies. Good companies do not even need to think about lending an ear to Hr’s concerns because HR is already a strategic partner in those companies.


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