Guest post by Maria Dillon, Human Resources Business Partner, EMEA

Last year, before I started in my current role with DocuSign, I was socialising with friends and was provided with a sharp realisation of what people really think of HR. I was asked the very normal question, “What do you do?” I responded with a smile on my face (because I love what I do), that I was in HR.

However, the mood was darkened by the response of someone I was with who said, “Wow, you just missed my rant about what a waste of space HR people are.”

I was floored. Firstly that someone could be so blunt in an open social context and secondly that people have this viewpoint.

It was, however, a reality check for me to understand people’s opinions of the role and it got me thinking – how can we change that perception so that all employees, not just managers, know an HR team’s true value?

So what IS HR’s value?

When polling an audience of family and friends, time after time they struggled to answer this question. I was met with, “Don’t they hire people?” (No, in my case I am mainly HR with a very soft touch on recruitment), “Promote the company and set up events?” (It was at this point that I realised my own mother thought I was in PR, not HR), “Type up warning letters to people who are late?” (In my whole career I am yet to write one of these).

I received similar responses when I put the question to employees, with most answers relating to administration in some shape or form. Of course, it’s natural for people to think this is all HR professionals do if this is the only experience they’ve had in the past.

At this point, I decided to work out how we can change this perception of HR. After reflecting on my first HR job, my initial thought was the need to reduce the mountain of paperwork I was greeted with every morning (something similar to the picture below).

Office Worker with Mountain of Paperwork

HR is about creating positive experiences for its stakeholders, whether it’s a potential candidate, a new hire, an existing employee or a third party vendor. The problems inherent with traditional HR processes are generally linked to paper; the need to print, fax, scan and post documents.

By digitising these exchanges, we can dramatically improve the experience for our stakeholders by removing these obstacles.

Support the business with facts not feeling

HR is also about credibility. The “I have a feeling” line is not going to work in the fast-paced world we live in today. When I want to suggest an improvement to the business, I do my research and bring some back-up. That back-up can be an article or a study, but I prefer to lead with statistics.

For example, if you are suggesting that your business should implement an EAP policy it helps if you support it with statistics on the tangible benefits of such a programme. If HR has a seat at the table, it is important to add context to strategies and cultural shifts. By giving leaders examples and facts on how these can improve their business, you are providing them with the information needed to make these critical decisions.

How can HR departments find the time to “have a seat at the table?”

When I discuss the role of HRBP’s with peers in the same field I am often laughed at and told, “Who has time to do research? I will be lucky to get through the piles of administration and approvals on my desk this week, never mind checking attrition trends in the latest Harvard Business Review!”

HR, like most supporting departments, is often under-resourced; another complaint also shared among my HR peers. The solution is not always, “let’s hire five more people.” It can be as simple as moving over to a digital solution. Instead of wasting a day in a filing room searching for a document that was sent five years ago to a now disgruntled employee, why not embrace the digital tools available and have all this information at the touch of a button?

When I ask HR professionals how much time they would spend by removing hard copy files, paper transactions and manual processes they usually laugh – unable to imagine a world where that would be possible. It is possible and it will change the way HR does business in the future.

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