Back to Middle Matters

Human Resources: More than just the department that "hires and fires” people

February 9, 2023

HR can and should play a much larger role in a company’s strategy and long-term planning. Three HR leaders share how and why.

When you think of human resource (HR) professionals, what kind of work do you think of? For many people, they may see HR’s role as simply carrying out the beck and call of the big boss — handling admin work, hiring new employees, and letting people go. 

“HR is only viewed as the department that ‘hires and fires people’”, explained Shang Trinidad, Global People Lead at Intellect, a mental health platform providing support to teams across Asia-Pacific (APAC). 

This misconception about HR is not only inaccurate but also detrimental to companies, as HR staff are well-placed to provide accountability to company leaders and manage the training and retention of employees. Three HR leaders shared their insights about how and why companies should engage HR to help their overall growth and success. 

Thinking strategically and providing accountability

Given their unique position of oversight and in-depth knowledge of the people power of the company, it is important that HR professionals are included in strategic decision-making. 

For Shang, she utilises data and numbers to educate company leaders on their potential options. However, she said, it can be difficult for HR staff to play this important role if they are not given the agency and autonomy to suggest and enact these decisions. 

One way that HR plays a vital role in a company’s strategy is by holding leaders accountable to what is best for the company. For example, when hiring managers ask for more headcount, rather than simply carrying out the hiring process as instructed, HR professionals can think strategically about whether hiring is indeed the right decision to make. 

Priya V., Global Head of Talent Acquisition and Strategic HR Partner at BigPay, a digital financial services company with roots in Malaysia, said that HR staff need to push back at team leaders who want to hire more people to their team.

She explained, “I often ask them, why don't we sit down and look at how we can extract resources from your current team; such as, could we be shifting job scope or promoting?” 

If not done with careful consideration for what is most strategic, rapid hiring can later lead to rapid firing, resulting in devastating outcomes for the former employees and their families. 

Training and retention

HR professionals also play an important role in supporting the continued engagement and success of employees. 

“To be competitive for high-quality talent, the most crucial element is intentionally designing for retention,” said Francesco Diomaiuta, Head of People at Honest Bank, a fintech company with the goal of providing access to fair banking in Southeast Asia. Retention is directly correlated with engagement, he added. 

In Francesco’s opinion, the most crucial engagement mechanism is leadership development. HR professionals can identify problems through engagement surveys, as well as monitor and anticipate turnover and engagement. 

Employees can also be encouraged to stay engaged through accurate and effective stretch goals. “There is always room for growth at every organisation and for every employee. The key is setting accurate and effective stretch goals to support their development,” Francesco said. 

Recognition can also create higher retention of talented employees, said Priya, who added that HR professionals should think about how employees are recognised and rewarded for thinking outside of the box. “We fail to share directly with our people how we will invest in nurturing them,” she said. “Why do you want to buy and let go of good talent when you can build internal capabilities?”

Preparing for growth

Now that your employees are feeling appreciated and engaged in your company, you’re ready to think about long-term growth. HR professionals are a valuable resource for companies to tap on, as they can provide strategic insight and accountability to organisation leaders, particularly in smaller ventures that haven’t yet hit that stage of hypergrowth. 

Francesco, who had previously worked in a much larger company, draws from his prior experience to prepare Honest Bank for the next growth stage. “When you scale from 100 to 500 people, roles and responsibilities for team leads and leadership shift dramatically, but people don't want to change. As an organisation, you must prepare processes and become vocal about the coming changes,” he said. 

“The decision-making processes for these changes need to become more intentional, conscious and transparent. We need to be continuously talking about change inside the leadership team.”

Francesco stated that in order for a company to scale effectively, the organisation must have strong principles. HR professionals play a key role in the development of and adherence to these strong principles. 

Reflection questions:

“We [HR leaders] need to be a part of long-term, organisation-building plans. If we don't, HR ends up dealing with the consequences.” - Priya V.

While HR professionals are often seen only as admin staff who carry out the hiring and firing of a company, they hold a far more nuanced and strategic position. They can keep company leaders accountable to long-term goals, improve employee retention, and prepare organizations for sustainable growth. Failing to recognise the strategic benefits of empowering and including HR staff in decision-making is a sorely missed opportunity that can lead to costly mistakes. 

Think carefully about how your company engages your HR leaders’ expertise. 

  • If you've expanded from 10 to 200 people in 2 years, how does that shift the scope / impact of HR support required?
  • What is your HR working on right now? 
  • What are some strategic problems which would be helpful to reach out to HR about? 
  • Have you educated your team about how to work with HR?

Who is NewCampus?

Like Francesco, Priya, and Shang, a growing number of leaders from Asia’s fastest-growing companies are working with NewCampus to make business education accessible to emerging leaders. Find out more.

Continue reading