Beyond administrivia: in savvy companies, HR sets the agenda for growth

Smart companies recognize human resources departments are the key for attracting the next generation of talent
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

The side of human resources (HR) departments most managers and employees see is the administrative side -- the folks who manage the payroll and benefits paperwork, keep salaries aligned, prepare new employee orientation packages, prepare severance packages, and make sure the enterprise is meeting the letter of all labor laws and regulations.

But administrivia is just one small segment of HR's mission.  As a strategic partner, HR can help make or break business growth. Technology and supply chains help a business survive, but it is leadership and an innovative corporate culture that make a business thrive. Savvy companies are turning to HR to help them secure these precious assets.

In a recent article at Workforce.com, Fay Hansen looked at two global corporations that have learned how to move their companies in new directions with smart HR strategies.

  • VF Corporation, an apparel mega-retailer and distributor that employs 40,000 people across the globe, invests heavily in HR programs to ensure that the 100 executives leading the company are the best, brightest, and most well-trained in the industry.
  • Zurich Financial Services, a giant insurance-based financial services company with 60,000 employees, relies on HR savvy to  make sure its 200 top executives are well prepared for the challenges it faces today in a tough financial market, as well as in the future.

In her article, Hansen talked about the unique relationship between the CEO and HR in these companies. "At successful global corporations, the CEO wants one thing from the top HR officer: a strong pipeline of high-level leaders that will drive business growth. At successful large companies, interaction between the CEO and the chief HR executive revolves around building and maintaining the very top layer of corporate leaders."

Eric Wiseman, CEO of VF Corp., connects the dots between good HR practices and corporate growth:

"If you sit in my office, with a growth plan to raise revenues from $7 billion to $11 billion by 2012, you'll see that I need three things. I need a strong financial lever, and that's never been more important than it is now. I need brands that are winning against the competition. And I need talent. Money and brands don't do me any good if I don't have the talent."

VF's vice president of human resources works closely with Wiseman, and is kept apprised of all impending mergers, acquisitions, and other corporate moves. The 275-person HR department is led by a committee of international HR vice presidents who meet quarterly. The HR departments also employs the latest analytics technology to more effectively build and deploy the company's human resource skills.

Similarly, Zurich's chief executive James Schiro works closely with the company's HR head, and gathers the company's full global executive group once a year to evaluate key executive positions, succession planning, and new talent recruiting. This emphasis on managing key executive human resources has helped the company navigate the treacherous waters of the recent financial crisis, executives say.

Leveraging HR departments as strategic partners is smart business, because more than any other factor, having the right talent will assure growth for your business.  This has proven to be the ingredient for success for VF Corp. and Zurich Financial -- a retailer and financial services company that sailed through the storm of 2008-2009 -- and is the ingredient for success for all businesses moving forward into the highly competitive global economy ahead.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards